Every year or so, I reread Gilbert K. Chesterton’s Club of Queer Trades.
It’s not because it’s one of his masterpieces. In all honesty, The Man Who Was Thursday and any given volume of Father Brown are Chesterton’s truest masterpieces in my eyes. And I can think of other books by him, The Man Who Knew Too Much or the Paradoxes of Mister Pond, that I also think are much stronger.
So why do I keep rereading it? Well, because it’s a quick read but still carries the charm and wit that made Chesterton so brilliant and so much fun. I am always finding new books to read by Chesterton and rereading others but The Club of Queer Trades is a reliable little sip of Chesterton.
A collection of six stories, The Club of Queer Trades is bound together by the idea that the characters are discovering strange situations that turn out to people who have come up with entirely new ways to make a living.
The detective role in the stories is held by Basil Grant, a former judge who is definitely whimsical and who might also be a little insane. Amusingly, a reoccurring character is his brother Rupert, who actually is a detective, although apparently not a very good one. And, at the end, it’s pretty obvious Basil solved most of the mysteries by already knowing what was really going on.
Two of the stories have really stuck with me over the years.
The collection starts with The Tremendous Adventure of Major Brown, which is the strongest story in the book and up there in the Chesterton cannon in general. It elevates the whole book.
* SPOILERS * SPOILERS* SPOILERS*
Major Brown apparently has stumbled across a conspiracy to kill him. In actuality, he actually got mixed up with someone who subscribes to a service that is basically a LARP. The fact that the queer trade actually exits now just adds to my entertainment.
I also like how the actress involved in LARP ends up falling for Major Brown because she knew lots of men who were brave when they knew it was fake but Major Brown is the only man she knew who went down into a cellar believing a killer was waiting for him.
The other story that remains with me is the Singular Speculation of the House Agent. The twist is that the man sells tree houses, which is also a real profession these days. However, what made it stick with me is how well Chesterton describes the characters dreamy, twilight journey through wilderness to find that tree house.
The Club of Queer Trades isn’t a perfect book. While it’s bound together by an idea, it doesn’t have the thematic through line that Chesterton’s later books have. It isn’t the book I’d use to introduce someone to Chesteron’s fiction (that’d be the Innocence of Father Brown, by the way) But it is a nice Chesterton snack.