Monday, July 6, 2015

The traitors within our gates

One of my prized possessions is The Art of the Mystery Story (1946) "edited and with a commentary by Howard Haycraft." The book is a collection of essays by mystery authors and critics of the genre. I have been reading the recently published The Golden Age of Murder about the members of the Detection Club. The first president of that club, and also the author of the first essay in the Haycraft book, was G.K. Chesterton. That essay, "A Defense of Detective Stories," is also available online. From G.K.C.'s essay:
While it is the constant tendency of the Old Adam to rebel against so universal and automatic a thing as civilization, to preach departure and rebellion, the romance of police activity keeps in some sense before the mind the fact that civilization itself is the most sensational of departures and the most romantic of rebellions. By dealing with the unsleeping sentinels who guard the outposts of society, it tends to remind us that we live in an armed camp, making war with a chaotic world, and that the criminals, the children of chaos, are nothing but the traitors within our gates. When the detective in a police romance stands alone, and somewhat fatuously fearless amid the knives and fists of a thieves’ kitchen, it does certainly serve to make us remember that it is the agent of social justice who is the original and poetic figure; while the burglars and footpads are merely placid old cosmic conservatives, happy in the immemorial respectability of apes and wolves. The romance of the police force is thus the whole romance of man. It is based on the fact that morality is the most dark and daring of conspiracies. It reminds us that the whole noiseless and unnoticeable police management by which we are ruled and protected is only a successful knight-errantry.