Sunday, May 15, 2011

Trent's Last Case and the Remarkable E.C. Bentley

Ever since G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday I have intended to find and read E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case. The reason? Because Chesterton dedicated Thursday to Bentley, and Bentley wrote this saying "I owe you a book in return." I'm not a huge fan of detective novels (is this one of those genres better suited to film?), and so it wasn't much surprise that this one never really grabbed me. However, there were points where this was quite a delightful read, simply for the turns of phrase and the recognizable echoes of that Chestertonian spirit. Most notable among these was this simple paragraph toward the end, coming in the denouement before the final twist:
"All I mean is, my dear Trent, that there are really remarkable things going on all around us if we will only see them, and we do our perceptions no credit in regarding as remarkable only those affairs which are surrounded with an accumulation of sensational detail."
- Trent's Last Case (Garland, 1976), 307
Bentley and Chesterton were childhood friends who started a debate group at their secondary school which was dedicated to the discussion of politics and literature as well as the publication of poems and essays. It was these friends who turned G.K.C. from apathetic schoolboy to confident literate. It was also these friends who were the first to hear the now famous form of poetry named for the "C" in E.C. Bentley.

The Clerihew is a four line poem about a person, which often has a witty twist or a poignant summary of something notable. You can see some recently written clerihews about theologians here, but here's one of Bentley's own, which he wrote about he and Chesterton's mutual friend and political agitater:
Mr. Hilaire Belloc
Is a case for legislation ad hoc.
He seems to think that nobody minds
His books being all of different kinds.
I don't have anything sensational to say about Bentley's novel, but perhaps that's the point. He certainly seems to have given much in terms of the excerpt given above. Thus while I would hate to trivialize the man (he seems to have had quite the career of his own), this clerihew is my tribute to his spark:

For me E.C. Bentley
will always be
the fresh air for G.K.C.
that was in turn breathed to me.

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