seems that Aristide Valentin takes the same place in the stories of
G.K.Chesterton as Sherlock Holmes takes in the books by Arthur Conan Doyle and
Hercule Poirot takes in Agata Christy’s novels. Still, there is a remarkable
distinction between the latter characters and Valentin, which makes them
principally different. All of these people are famous, experienced and
successful detectives. Still, the ways they achieved their successes are
diametrically opposed, as it will be demonstrated later.
image of Valentin in the “Blue Cross” to the fullest extent corresponds to all
traditions of a good story (and not only a detective story). A relatively brief
Valentin’s portrait given in the very beginning and starting with the words
“The was nothing notable about him,..” gives reader a maximum possibly full
description of the man’s appearance and, even more, particularly character. The
text is build in such a way that there’s something between the lines that tells
us about the nature of Valentin.
Holmes, Poirot and a set of other well known literature characters develop and
strictly obey a certain sequences of deductive rules, which altogether form the
so-called “deductive method”, first mentioned by Arthur Conan Doyle but in fact
confessed by ninety nine percent of all investigators in classical detective
Valentin prefers his own method, and the “Blue Cross” gives the brightest
possible example of it. Whether such a method could be applied in the real life
and what it efficiency would be then, will be considered later; now there is a
point in paying attention to the Chesterton’s own words.
following citation reflects the basic peculiarities of Valentin’s thinking:
“…he was not a ‘thinking machine’; for that is a brainless phrase of modern
fatalism and materialism… he was a thinking man and a plain man at the same
time. All his wonderful successes, that looked like conjuring, had been gained
by plodding logic, by clear and commonplace French thought… exactly because
Valentin understood reason, he understood the limits of reason. Only a man who
knows nothing of motors talks of motoring without petrol; only a man who knows
nothing of reason talks of reasoning without strong, undisputed principles”.
“Blue Cross” bears almost no suspense which is traditional for the stories that
exploit the deductive method as the way of solving a problem. At the same time,
the story fills a reader with gripping curiosity and wish to read on until the end.
task of the detective here is, on the one hand, almost primitive, and, on the
other hand, almost impossible to solve. Valentin needs to find a certain person
(the world-famous criminal Flambeau) in the huge city of London, with the
population of several millions and of unknown to Valentin arrangement of
streets, blocks and districts. There is no not only the exact information on
where Flambeau could be in London but if he was there in principle – this is
just a conjecture. And literally everything that is done by Valentin to find
the criminal is based upon his conjectures too. The most amazing thing is that
is how G.K.Chesterton describes the investigation method of Valentin:”…in such
cases he reckoned on the unforeseen. In such cases when he could not follow the
train of the reasonable, he coldly and carefully followed the train of the
unreasonable. Instead of going to the right places – banks, police-stations,
rendezvous – he systematically went to the wrong places; knocked at every empty
house, turned down every cul de sac, went up every lane blocked with
rubbish, went round every crescent that led him uselessly out of the way”.
Valentine defended his crazy course quite logically:”…if one had a clue this
was the worst way; but if one had no clue at all it was the best, because there
was just the chance that any oddity that caught the eye of the pursuer might be
the same that had caught the eye of the pursued”.
Logic itself is an apparatus, a machine, and it has to be fed with facts.
Holmes and others did their best to catch a vanishing trace of a criminal by
carefully thinking of actions the latter would carry out to escape and by
putting themselves into the criminals position. Never Valentin did so. The way
Valentin picks to gain facts and to track a man does not seem to be logically
approved. More, it seems to be incredible, terribly inefficient. It makes
reader to think that Valentin probably was very superstitious or very weird
kind of detective.
As soon as Valentin runs across the criminal’s
trace he sticks to it, goes along it at finally gets what he’s looking for as
any other normal investigator. But prior to it is the point from which a
question to Chesterton, as the “father” of Aristide Valentin, arises.
Does Chesterton really believe that it should
be reasonable in real life to rely upon the pure probability of running into
something related to the crime or the criminal occasionally? The system of
Valentin is original, smart and, no doubt, has the right to exist among the
best examples of the world detective literature. But when it comes to the
reality, it inevitably loses when compared to Poirot’s and Holmes’s approaches.
The most evident reason for it is that Aristide Valentin must be a pure
imaginary person, a fruit of Chesterton’s fantasy with no real roots, while
Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and others all had living prototypes.
There’s one more weakness of Valentin that should be mentioned, inherent in his
style of work, and noted by himself:” The criminal is the creative artist; the
detective only the critic…”. For most of his virtual colleagues, it’s visa
versa: they are the artists, and they play the first violin, while most of the
criminals have to follow it.
Nevertheless, while some aspects of Valentines system that can be considered as
drawbacks, from literary point of view the character himself looks alive and
natural, which adds to the art value of the story.