If there's one thing that ticks me off about this book, it's this: The Club of Queer Trades is a parody of Sherlock Holmes. From the protagonist, Basil Grant--who scoffs at facts--to his younger brother Rupert--a wannabe private detective patrolling lamp-lit London--G. K. Chesterton takes a not-so-subtle jab at the Sherlock Holmes series and the science of deduction. Basil Grant's tools of the trade? A touch of insanity, healthy intuition, and uproarious laughter.
In fact, I can forgive Chesterton and his maniacal character just for the laughs I got reading this book. Chesterton's word choice is very quirky and witty throughout most of the six short stories and especially the first half. If you're looking for a light read set in Victorian London, you could give this a try.
The basic plotline is this: Rupert, Basil, and Mr Swinburne (the narrator/Watson) never agree on who is a suspicious-looking character. And if either Rupert or Basil sees a suspicious-looking character, they are determined to hunt them down and catch them red-handed in their crimes. Much awkwardness ensues when first impressions turn out to be a far cry from the truth. I think my favorite was "The Painful Fall of a Great Reputation", involving "the wickedest man in England" (apparently not Charles Augustus Milverton).
Rupert, by the way, is a great character, for all his "erroneous conclusions." I mean, if this were a typical detective story, he'd be a good detective. The true solutions, however, turn out to be so fantastically absurd that Rupert fails before he begins.
4 out of 5 stars for The Club of Queer Trades. Recommended even for Sherlock Holmes devotees, like me. There's a free, excellent audiobook by David Barnes at Librivox, which I listened to for the first 1 1/2 stories.