Pictures in the Fire
Mr Pond nodded; he seemed to be suddenly smitten with a fit of abstraction. At last he said: “I sometimes wonder whether things weren’t better when pictures meant the pictures in the fire, instead of the pictures on the film.”
Sir Hubert Wotton gruffly suggested, in a general way, the dingy fire in a Third-Class Waiting Room was not one in which he would prefer to look for pictures.
“The fire pictures, like the cloud pictures, went on Mr Pond, “are just incomplete enough to call out the imagination to complete them. Besides,” he added, cheerfully poking the fire, “you can stick a poker into the coals and break them up into another picture, whereas, if you push a great pole through the screen because you don’t like the face of a film star, there is all sorts of trouble.”
I picked up GK Chesterton’s The Paradoxes of Mr Pond second-hand, tempted by some very nice opening paragraphs. It’s more of the same: short stories of impossible crimes and paradoxes solved by a beatific eccentric. There’s a little less Christian propaganda than in the Father Brown stories, but you can rely on the criminal to turn out to be an atheist or a Jew, if one has been established. It’s for this reason that I prefer John Dickson Carr, who also provides colourful 1930s language (even in those books written in the 60s). Carr never propagandizes for anything except strong drink.
I was nearly finished the book when I hit the only really offensive story, which begins with a character deploring the mistreatment of the Jews in Europe (this was 1936). This character, unfortunately, is Wootton, the blustering bureaucrat who is always wrong, and he’s swiftly mocked by the comedy Irishman who makes some humorous remarks about kicking Jews, and then Pond tells a crime story in which the Jew turns out to be the bad guy. Had this been the first story in the book, I would have read no further. In fairness to Chesterton, he did write Eugenics and Other Evils, but that doesn’t let him off the hook.
Image from Julien Duvivier’s LYDIA.