Oct 22, 2008

Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton (and a winner!)

Chesterton’s Father Brown is an unlikely detective. Repeatedly described as a harmless, meek, timid little priest, he often saves the day and surprises those who surround him with his perceptiveness.

The fact that Father Brown solves mysteries that nobody else seems to be able to solve is the full extension of his similarity to Sherlock Holmes. Unlike Holmes, Father Brown is humble and unassuming. He is not a well-known man, and often he lurks in the background until the crucial moment. He remains quiet until he has something truly relevant to say. And in addition to being deeply perceptive, he’s also sympathetic and wise. He’s a no-nonsense man, who sees things as they really are, and not as you’d expect them to be (he’s a bit like Granny Weatherwax that way).

The Father Brown mysteries are not so much whodunit as how-was-it-done (and sometimes, why was it done) stories. We have a crime committed in apparently impossible circumstances, or a series of apparently unconnected events that would tell a story if only someone could look at them and find the pattern. Father Brown is that someone. And although he is, of course, a man of faith, he looks for human rather than devilish or divine causes for the cases he investigates.

As you can tell by now, I really enjoyed these stories, and one of the reasons was Chesterton’s subtle sense of humour and his wonderful writing. Look at this description from “The Invisible Man”, for example:
In the cool blue twilight of two steep streets in Camden Town, the shop at the corner, a confectioner’s, glowed like the butt of a cigar. One should rather say, perhaps, like the butt of a firework, for the light was of many colours and some complexity, broken up by many mirrors and dancing on many gilt and gaily-coloured cakes and sweetmeats. Against this one fiery glass were glued the noses of many gutter-snipes, for the chocolates were all wrapped in those red and gold and green metallic colours which are almost better than chocolate itself; and the huge white wedding-cake in the window was somehow at once remote and satisfying, just as if the whole North Pole were good to eat.
A source of mild annoyance: When I bought this Penguin Popular Classics edition I didn’t realized that it contained an odd mixture of stories from The Innocence of Father Brown and The Wisdom of Father Brown. It’s basically the first book with the last four stories replaced with stories from the second book. This strikes me as a bit of an odd publishing choice, but oh well. I will eventually replace this with one of those lovely The Complete Father Brown editions and put it on Bookmooch.

A few more favourite passages:
“How do you know all this?” he cried. “Are you a devil?”
“I am a man,” answered Father Brown gravely; “and therefore have all devils in my heart.”
From “The Hammer of God”

And from what was probably my favourite story, “The Queer Feet”:
Father Brown’s figure remained quite dark and still; but in that instant he had lost his head. His head was always most valuable when he had lost it. In such moments he put two and two together and made four million. Often the Catholic Church (which is wedded to common sense) did not approve of it. Often he did not approve of it himself. But it was real inspiration — important at rare crises — when whosoever shall lose his head the same shall save it.

A waiter came swiftly along the room, and then stopped dead. His stoppage was as silent as his tread; but all those vague and kindly gentlemen were so used to the utter smoothness of the unseen machinery which surrounded and supported their lives, that a waiter doing anything unexpected was a start and a jar. They felt as you and I would feel if the inanimate world disobeyed — if a chair ran away from us.
If you’re a fan of thoughtful, somewhat introspective mystery stories with a thing or two to say about so-called human nature, then Father Brown is your man.

Reviewed at:
Read Warbler
A Striped Armchair
Rebecca Reads

And a collection of very interesting Chesterton links, courtesy of Dark Orpheus.

The winner of last week's The Turtle Moves! giveaway is....

Darla D!

Congratulations, Darla! Please send me an e-mail so we can arrange everything.

And speaking of giveaways, Trish is giving away a copy of Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies. I've been wanting to read this book ever since I read her review. Click here for more details.


  1. I know what you mean about the edition. I read some of the Father Brown stories almost a decade ago now, but this summer my husband decided he wanted to read them — he'd never read any Chesterton. So he went to Amazon and bought a used Complete Works. But then it showed up, and was 200 pages, when the Complete Works is over 800! Well, I just remembered that this is a long story. And I've already written it down! :) http://wordlily.wordpress.com/2008/07/30/unique-isbns/

    I guess, all that to say, I feel your pain.

    Oh, and I, too, enjoy the Father Brown stories.

  2. Yay, thanks so much, Nymeth! This is very exciting! :-)

  3. Thanks for the mention, my dear. I'll be back later to catch up on your posts...

  4. That sounds so fun!

    Thanks for mentioning Trish's giveaway. That one's been on my wish list for a while, too. In fact, I'll just wait and hope you win. :)

  5. You got me in the last sentence. I am interested to read about introspective mystery touching on human nature. This one goes into my wish list and waiting patiently to be added into my TBR...

  6. I love the sections you picked out. I always had a soft spot for such mysteries as the Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes, although I don't read mysteries as a general rule of thumb. This sounds similar in style to those types of books.

  7. Hmmm, I like detective stories. And I have Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday on my phone but I haven't read it yet. I think I'd enjoy Father Brown as well. Hello Project Gutenberg!

  8. I enjoyed reading that passage, too. cakes, chocolate... ah, it's too close to Halloween!

  9. I have this same edition - I agree, the mix was a little odd, but overall Father Brown is so loveable I can forgive Penguin. Now I am looking for the complete stories for further happiness...

  10. I enjoyed the edition I read -- a mix of 17 stories from all of his books. I have to reread Holmes to better compare them; I don't recall how Sherlock went.

    Thanks for linking to me!

  11. I've never heard of Father Brown, but I enjoyed your review. He seems like a very interesting character!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  12. I read a Father Brown story years ago in an anthology and always intended to read more. Now, maybe I will!

  13. How have I never heard of Father Brown? Glad you changed that...these sound like the perfect kind of stories to read comfortably wrapped in a blanket with a mug of tea.

    By the way, I think you have a thing for passages about sweet shops...don't I recall another you shared about a bakery not too terribly long ago? ;)

  14. I know I won't turn down on any mystery story! And Father Brown sounds like a great character. Thanks for the great review, Nymeth!

  15. Interesting. I'm not much of a mystery lady, but this does sound like an enticing collection.

  16. Wordlily: Oh wow, when I get myself a complete edition I must make sure I look at the number of pages carefully! That is so annoying. You'd think ISBNs would be unique!

    Darla and Trish, you are both welcome!

    Bookfool, you are too sweet! And yes, Father Brown is lots of fun!

    Alice: Who can resist those, right? :P

    Kim: I haven't read any of the Miss Marple books (yet), but yes, I think it's along the same lines. I hope you enjoy these stories when you get to them :)

    Lightheaded: I read The Man Who Was Thursday a few years ago and I found it very weird but very enjoyable. I think I liked Father Brown even more, though!

    Care: It made me want sweets too :P

    Ella: Yes, I enjoyed the stories too much to stay mad at Penguin for long!

    Rebecca: While Father Brown is humble, Sherlock Holmes has a very big ego! In a weird way that's part of his charm, but I think I prefer quiet and thoughtful Father Brown.

    Anna, thanks! He really is.

    Jenclair: I hope you enjoy them :)

    Debi: lol! That was from paddy clarke ha ha ha :P It's not just because they describe delicious things, I promise :P I really go find them very well written :P And yes, these are perfect stories to read in the company of a warm blanket and a mug of tea (and a purring cat for extra comfort)

    Melody, I hope you enjoy these stories!

    bookchronicle: I'm not either, but I think these deserve an exception!

  17. I haven't read any of the Father Brown stories, but they sound absolutely wonderful! Great review. I love the passages you quote.

  18. Lisa, I hope you enjoy the stories! Chesterton's writing is so wonderful.

  19. I havent heard of this before, it sounds really good.
    great review :)


  20. I have a couple of these collections on my shelf and I've really enjoyed other Chesterton works that I have read so I really need to get to these.

  21. Naida, thanks! It's funny how Father Brown has become sort of obscure...I think he deserves to be more well-known.

    Carl, I think you'll enjoy these too!

  22. Thanks for the mention. I'm still halfway through my anthology which is a real mish-mash of three or four Father Brown anthologies. At some stage I think I'll get a complete edition too. The stories are well worth it and suitable even for people who are not huge crime fans, such as myself. Nice review.

  23. I've never read any Father Brown stories, but they've been on my list for a long time. And after reading this review, I'm sure I'd enjoy them. Thanks!

  24. Cath: That's what I thought too..I'm not a huge mystery fan, but I just loved these!

    Robin, I really think you will indeed enjoy them!

  25. Not sure it's for me but I think my boss would love it. Howevere you did compare him to Granny Weatherwax so who knows!

  26. Thanks for reviewing the Father Brown stories. It's a pity that Father Brown has become so obscure. The stories are so good, and I think they would appeal to readers generally, not just mystery fans like me. Some of my favorite stories are "The Queer Feet," "The Invisible Man," "The Hammer of God," and "The Duel of Dr. Hirsch." I've been trying and trying to review the stories on my blog for years, but it's such a large body of work, and so special to me, that I can't decide on an approach :)

  27. As a child, I was given the complete Father Brown stories by my parents in one volume in hardback. They remain one of my prize possessions, more than 40 years later. The stories are forever, as the human mind doesn't change that much. Chesterton was a master - I know of nothing else like these stories. Great to see people still enjoying them.


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