I must admit to becoming very intrigued by G.K. Chesterton. Up until recently, I knew him only really as the author of the Father Brown mystery stories. I read quite a few of these years back, and remember them as being – well, a little strange, really. But earlier this year I picked up yet another set of books from The Book People, and one of them was “The Man Who Was Thursday”. This turned out to be, yes,  strange but also surreal and very entertaining, so when I came across CQT in a charity shop I snapped it up. Here I should say that I think I may have read it before – but with my increasing age and the amount of books I’ve read, I can’t actually remember so I’ll treat it as a new one!

Anyway – “The Club of Queer Trades” is a slim volume, first published in 1905, collecting together 6 short tales featuring the narrator, a Watson-like character called Charlie Swinburne; an enthusiastic amateur sleuth by the name of Rupert Grant;  and the main protagonist, his brother Basil. Basil Grant is a judge who took retirement from the Bench after apparently have an attack of madness! He is a man of intellect, preferring to use his faculties rather than running around madly like his brother Rupert, who flings himself at a problem with great abandon. The first story sets the tone for the book, being the tale of a strange and inexplicable set of events that happen to a friend of Grants, Major Brown. After a little deducting on Basil’s part, all is explained and the happenings are found to have emanated from a business which belongs to the Club of Queer Trades, a mysterious organisation who will reappear throughout the book.

Any astute reader will already have sensed similarities with another great fictional detective, although it seems to me that Basil resembles much more Mycroft than Sherlock in his willingness to sit in one place and solve the problem! In many ways the book is a pastiche of Conan-Doyle but it has enough individuality of its own for that not to matter. The adventures get stranger and stranger, the explanations more and more unlikely, until in the last story there is a denouement almost on the last page that perhaps should have been obvious but wasn’t!

By Ernest Herbert Mills [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

CQT is a little more straightforward than “The Man Who Was Thursday” – it manages to bring in the surreal and the silly and the slight suggestion of supernatural (which I seem to recall from “Father Brown”), but in a way that doesn’t detract from the wit and enjoyment of the linked stories. It’s a very clever, funny and original little book and very diverting – it kept my mind well and truly off the horrors of a complex, cold and dark train (and rail replacement coach) journey home from London, so that’s saying something!

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