The books we read in childhood don’t always hold up to our memories of them. Sometimes it’s just a matter of juvenile or bad writing, but other times, it’s the author’s prejudices that turn us off as adults—and classic detective stories can be particularly troublesome:
Chesterton’s glorious evocations of light, landscape, and unnerving, lurid strangeness remain compelling. But his frequent use of racial stereotypes now slams me repeatedly out of his text. References to “the yellow man”, “a big white bulk … but with the needless emphasis of a black face”, “the fashionable negro … showing his apish teeth” – even the intrinsic evil of a “Turkey carpet” – leave me feeling that the padre’s much-touted broad-mindedness boils down all too often to mere mistrust of any skin-shade other than white.