Manalive because it is by G. K. Chesterton (which is reason enough) but also some review said it was one of the funniest books he had written. The book was quite an amusing tale, not so much a laugh-out-loud read, but one that in true Chesterton style, presented quite an amusing logic. The story is set in a home, Beacon House, made up of about six quirky characters who live there, where one day this new guy, Innocent, climbed over the fence chasing his hat in the wind ended up also moving in to the place. This place was self run and early on they decided that this place would be a power unto itself, but as the book puts it:
...the string of solid and startling events— which were to include a hansom cab, a detective, a pistol, and a marriage licence—were all made primarily possible by the joke about the High Court of Beacon.The book is broken into two parts. In the first part Innocent turns the place upsides down in various ways including asking one of the ladies to marry him, and then after a scuffle fires his gun at someone while also a man from America turns up saying he had been hunting Innocent down for some time as he is a violent and dangerous man. Innocent appeals to the High Court of Beacon which kicks off the second half of the book which is all about the trial of Innocent. (If you don't find it slightly amusing that the character on trial is named Innocent then really this book isn't for you).
Not wanting to spoil the trial of Innocent, the charges against him are murder, burglary, desertion of his wife and polygamy. On each charge the American presents letters from eye witnesses to events that do seem quite air tight until the defense present other letters from an eye witness who was closer to the crimes. For example, in one case a letter from a janitor claims to have seen Innocent fire at a professor who was hanging off his balcony, while the defense then produce a letter from the professor himself to acquit Innocent of the charges.
This was an entertaining read, but the setting was a little drab. The whole second part was pretty much a court trial. But the crazy logic of the case, for me, did make we want to continue reading.
There is a Chesterton appreciation club that is even trying to make this book into a movie. To be honest the trailer didn't do much for me as it doesn't even keep to the original lines.
This book is free online form many places, and also in epub format.
Other books by Chesterton that I have read:
The Man Who Was Thursday