Thursday, 26 December 2013

Xmas crime on Boxing Day

The Flying Stars from The Innocence of Father Brown 
by GK Chesterton

Published 1911








[During a Christmas party, the young guests decide to stage a pantomime]

As always happens, the invention grew wilder and wilder through the very tameness of the bourgeois conventions from which it had to create. The columbine looked charming in an outstanding skirt that strangely resembled the large lamp-shade in the drawing-room. The clown and pantaloon made themselves white with flour from the cook, and red with rouge from some other domestic, who remained (like all true Christian benefactors) anonymous. The harlequin, already clad in silver paper out of cigar boxes, was, with difficulty, prevented from smashing the old Victorian lustre chandeliers, that he might cover himself with resplendent crystals. In fact he would certainly have done so, had not Ruby unearthed some old pantomime paste jewels she had worn at a fancy dress party as the Queen of Diamonds. Indeed, her uncle, James Blount, was getting almost out of hand in his excitement; he was like a schoolboy. He put a paper donkey's head unexpectedly on Father Brown, who bore it patiently, and even found some private manner of moving his ears.




observations: This is a crime that takes place on Boxing Day: the gentlemanly villain Flambeau tells us

my last crime was a Christmas crime, a cheery, cosy, English middle-class crime; a crime of Charles Dickens. I did it in a good old middle-class house near Putney, a house with a crescent of carriage drive, a house with a stable by the side of it, a house with the name on the two outer gates, a house with a monkey tree. Enough, you know the species. I really think my imitation of Dickens's style was dexterous and literary. It seems almost a pity I repented the same evening.

It is a classic Fr Brown story, with misdirection of a very particular kind. There are valuable jewels in the house – the Flying Stars of the title – and they disappear from the pocket of their owner. As a result Fr Brown turns out his pockets, and we find out that the contents are ‘seven and sixpence [37.5p], a return ticket, a small silver crucifix, a small breviary, and a stick of chocolate.’

And of course Fr Brown works out what happened during the amateur theatricals, and talks to the thief, who is sitting in a tree in a garden: it’s an affecting and beautifully-done moment, even though you suspect it would never happen like that in real life.

Another Fr Brown story is here – again with a setting in amateur theatricals, and with a comparison with this one. For more Xmas entries click on the label below. Lord Peter Wimsey -  'in a harlequin onesie' to quote blog friend Col - turned up in a past entry




The harlequin picture at the top, a magazine cover, is from the Library of Congress.

11 comments:

  1. Moira - What a great Fr. Brown story and of course, it's absolutely perfect for Boxing Day. I've always liked Flambeau, too. He's an interesting character. That description of the middle-class English Christmas is priceless as well. It reminds me of how well Chesterton wrote.

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    1. Thanks Margot - I thought this story had a great atmosphere, and - as you say - Chesterton does it so well, not quite unquestioning, but not quite tongue-in-cheek. Very nice tone...

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  2. Lovely images, both of them. I have read no Father Brown stories. Someday I hope to remedy that, but probably not in 2014.

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    1. Thanks Tracy. They are fun, and usually an easy read - you'll probably find yourself reading them one day! There is renewed interest at the moment in the UK because of a TV series...

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  3. I agree with Tracy. They are lovely images. And a great story.

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    1. Thanks Sarah - I do very much enjoy the stories - as much for the glimpses of other lives and a past time as for the detection, although Fr Brown does have a good line in working things out.

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  4. I love Father Brown. He is among the least pretentious of sleuths.

    I liked the images but they seem too perfect to be hasty homemade costumes. I expect it would be impossible to find images of such costumes. Who wants to take photos or make paintings of costumes that are homemade?

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    1. I know! I am always looking for pictures of fancydress and costumes, but as you say, in the nature of things they are usually rather professional - it would be lovely to find more photos of home-made improvised one. I like the idea of using the silver paper from cigar boxes as they describe above.

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  5. Moira - I guess my subtle hints missed the mark, as I never did get it...perhaps it's for the best. I think I enjoyed the TV series slightly more than the books, though both seem an awfully long time ago. I might read Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday next year for a couple of my reading challenges, if I can lay my hands on my copy!

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    1. And there I was picturing your enjoying Xmas Day in it, along with a hideous tie. I think you can get Man Who Was Thursday free for a Kindle....

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    2. Yep, just downloaded it - thanks, in case I can't find mine!

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