First published in The Saturday Evening Post (December 10, 1910) and then in The Innocence of Father Brown collection (1911). This edition: The Complete Father Brown Mysteries (Carousel Books, 2021). SPOILERS AHEAD?
This tale puts me in mind of one of many reasons I dislike casual dining concept restaurants. You know, those sit-down microwaved entree corporate establishments with license plates hanging all about. They think a framed picture exudes more fun when hung woefully askew on the wall. I always want to straighten them. It really throws off my sense of equilibrium as well as violates my taste in decor. I do like to pull a server aside to let them know a person in my party is celebrating their birthday, however. Whether they are or not.
"The whole house was built upon the plan of a T, but a T with a very long crosspiece and a very short tail piece." Positively off-puttingly eerie. There is also an exotic and therefore potentially evil knife of the wrong shape. And there is a murdered invalid poet (Quinton), a mystic, a doctor, and a mooch. Of course, there is Father Brown and with him, his newly-saved newly-minted right-hand Frenchman Flambeau, with his black mustache and small cigarette... so French! There is simply no way this man's top two shirt buttons have ever been closed.
"I die by my own hand, yet I die murdered!"
So reads the note left behind. Left behind on a bit of paper of the wrong shape. "It isn't square," answered Brown. "It has a sort of edge snipped off at the corner. What does it mean?" It appears simply a thing the man did to all his papers, well, 22 of 23 at least. How maddeningly odd. Where's that Indian (Hindoo) guy? The mooch (Atkinson) unbelievably wants to duke it out with Flambeau? Has everyone gone nutty? The doctor (Harris) is at his wit's end, "'How the deuce should I know?' growled the doctor." Father Brown remains cool as a cuke, or more aptly, a potato.
The stormy weather and lightning are no help here in maintaining calm. It's all so subtly and unrelentingly off-kilter. Both cacti and azaleas? I might faint. Comparatively, this installment is written in seemingly more haste, and read with a greater sense of urgency thanks to many a rapid word such as 'rapidly.' Also: 'running,' 'sprung,' 'flew,' and 'fell.' There is action. I am put in mind of another thing. The way comic book superheroes are drawn running, that incredible dynamic tilt-lean forward--almost falling into that action. This makes the ending we fall into so much more heavily static, and weighted. A letter of explanation and confession was delivered to the little priest.
Up to that point, the only counterbalance to all the freneticism was in the quietness of the mystic and the emptiness of the drug-addled poet.
The butler did it is such a tired trope and really isn't at all inclusive of other more studious occupations. Another trope? The wife was loved by another man who thought himself superior to her 'tormenting little lunatic' husband. Tropes must start somewhere, although I wouldn't bet that this one started here--although here it is handled quite well. Another thing. Just one more thing. Among all the action that ends in still gravitas... stands Father Brown and seemingly the seeds of Columbo with his pestering questions. Borrowing from trope, birthing an archetype?
Give a penny, take a penny. My two cents say this one is worth a buck. Which adjusted for today's inflation is, well, a good deal more.
Previously: Thoughts on The Honour of Israel Gow from The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton
Next: Thoughts on The Sins of Prince Saradine from The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton
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