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Literature / The Club of Queer Trades

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A collection of short mystery stories by G. K. Chesterton, affectionately filleting Chesterton's beloved mystery genre. Rupert Grant is a jack-of-all-trades turned private detective. His brother, Basil, is an eccentric retired judge. They Fight Crime!. Or, rather, Rupert tries to fight crime, and Basil shows how the mystery isn't actually at all criminal.

Each encounter sees Rupert and Basil (and their narrator) discovering a new and peculiar means by which someone earns a living, and eventually meet the Weird Trade Union for these entrepreneurs - the eponymous Club of Queer Trades. This club has a single condition for membership: that each member must have invented an entirely new trade by which to earn his living. This is further elaborated in the club's two rules: First, the trade must be entirely novel, not a mere variation on an existing one (i.e. an insurance agent who insured people's pants against getting ripped up by dogs instead of insuring their houses against catching fire would not be eligible). Second, the trade must be a genuine source of income, the support of its inventor (i.e. a man who spent his days collecting empty soda bottles would not be eligible unless he could somehow make a livable income out of doing so.)


Beware, the spoilers explain the plot of some stories:

Stories in this collection:

  • The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown
  • The Painful Fall of a Great Reputation
  • The Awful Reason of the Vicar's Visit
  • The Singular Speculation of the House-Agent
  • The Noticeable Conduct of Professor Chadd
  • The Eccentric Seclusion of the Old Lady

Tropes appearing in this series include:

  • Affectionate Parody: Of detective fiction, and Sherlock Holmes in particular.
  • Alternate Reality Game: The Adventure and Romance Agency, Limited, in The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Basil.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: At one point in The Eccentric Seclusion of the Old Lady, Basil carries on a spirited argument (mostly offstage) on the state of modern science education with someone he's just fought and tied up for unrelated reasons.
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  • Cassandra Truth: Lieutenant Keith suffers from this trope.
  • Courtroom Antic: Basil was forced to retire because he kept pulling these. He was the judge.
    I sentence you to three years' imprisonment, under the firm, and solemn, and God-given conviction, that what you require is three months at the seaside.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Basil Grant seasons this with Bunny-Ears Lawyer. He's brilliant as a detective and wise in the spiritual sense, but he doesn't care in the least about social conventions, which earned him the reputation of the "mad judge".
  • Exact Words: Lieutenant Keith lives in his house in "The Elms", Buxton Common. "The Elms" isn't the name of the house; it's the species of the grove of trees he lives in.
  • Expy: Rupert Grant has been called a parody of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Fan Fic: In recent years, stories in Gilbert (the magazine of the American Chesterton Society) have added three more trades to the club.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Mr. Wimpole's reputation as the best Gentleman Snarker at London is destroyed in a party where he cannot say anything funny. Basil discovers that Upper-Class Twit Sir Walter Cholmondeliegh has been hired by Wimpole to act as his Straight Man, writing Stealth Insult comments for Mr Wimpole to lash at Cholmondeliegh at the precise moment. When Mr. Wimpole finds himself without his foil, his reputation is ruined.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The general meaning of 'queer'.
  • The Hermit: Basil doesn't get out much. He's far from being unsociable or misanthropic - he'll chat up anyone who manages to find their way to his flat - but he really just doesn't feel compelled to seek out other people.
  • Mystery Fiction
  • Noodle Incident: The narrator begins the very first story by listing a number of other clubs with intriguing titles, such as the Ten Teacups (of which he dares not speak a word), and the Dead Man's Shoes Society ("that superficially immoral, but darkly justifiable communion"). None of these are ever elaborated upon.
  • Private Detective: Rupert.
  • The Reveal: Basil Grant has been carrying on his judiciary work undercover, and, he feels, in a far more socially-productive manner than his prior employment. In this capacity he was in fact the founder of the Club of Queer Trades.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: Major Brown, Major Brown, how did the jackal die? Northover knows, of course, but is bound by Agency confidentiality not to disclose details of a story written for someone else, and Major Brown won't force him against his honour.
  • Unwanted Rescue: The lady in the cellar steadfastly refuses to escape after hearing that her captors have been tied up.
  • Weird Trade Union: The Club of Queer Trades, of course - possibly the ur-example. The sole condition for admission is that the candidate must have invented the method by which he earns his living.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When asked why she married the very conservative Major Brown, actress Miss Jameson explains that while she met a great many men who acted like heroes in the Adventure And Romance Agency charades, there was only one who went down into a cellar when he really thought it contained a murderer.