Having never read Chesterton, I picked up this fun work. To be honest, I was a bit confused at first. I didn’t know anything about the book, but foolishly assumed that it was the source of some movie I recall seeing years ago. In actuality, each chapter stands alone as a short story and the book comprises a collection of short stories that cover the life of The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Harold March, “the rising reviewer and social critic,” stumbles upon a strange fisherman one day and subsequently stumbles into a series of mysteries. The unique stranger seems to know everyone who is anyone on a first name basis; yet, this strange man doesn’t appear to have any career. Horne Fisher, as he becomes known to Harold March, knows more than he wants to know about life, the universe and everything (Hint: Answer != 42).
As an aside: there are a few swear words in the book. This was a bit surprising since Chesterton was a strong practicing Catholic. I don’t think that these few words should stop a person from benefiting from the book.
Each chapter contains a story written by March about a mystery solved by Fisher. Sometimes March participates in the mystery; at other times Fisher relates the story to March afterwards. March’s character parallels Dr. Watson in many respects. The difference between Holmes and Fisher comes in the conclusion of each mystery. Fisher knows so much that he can’t prosecute the criminal. In every instance, politics and the good of the England prevent justice from occurring. Ironically, if Fisher knew less, he would cause more damage through “justice.”
How can that be? Chesterton expertly explores the intricacies of working justice in a corrupt world. While a Christian may disapprove of ruling on the “lesser of two evils,” that isn’t always an option. Every day, courts find themselves faced with deciding between the lesser of two evils. Though we should always try to take the high road, I don’t believe that it is always possible. Too much grey exists. How do you rule between two people in the wrong? Do you pick one over the other who did “less wrong?” Chesterton illustrates the difficulty of executing justice in each chapter of this book. The Bible deals with this very topic in 1 Samuel 14 and Joshua 9.
Tell me, do you think that justice is a black/white issue? Or is it shades of gray? How do you approach your faith? Is it black/white, gray or as in my case: both?