Summary: A series of short stories, originally serialized, about a mystery solving priest.
I am trying to read more old books that have stood the test of time. (And save some money.) So I picked up the Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton when I noticed that the audiobook was only $2.49 when you purchase the Kindle book (which is free.)
I have recently read the biography of CS Lewis and Chesterton is often compared favorably to Lewis. They are very different authors, but both wrote theology/apologetics and fiction. I have read Chesterton’s Orthodoxy in college, but I think that is the only full length book of his that I have read previously.
Chesterton’s Father Brown series is second only to Sherlock Holmes in popularity as a mystery series in Britain. But it is very different sort of mystery series. Sherlock Holmes is about deductive (scientific) reasoning. Father Brown is more psychological and intuitive. He understands the sin that is in people’s hearts.
What is most interesting about these stories is how often Father Brown either explains the crime (but has let the criminal go) or talks the criminal into confessing. It is clear that Father Brown is solving crimes, but his primary interest is in the spiritual health of the criminal.
Father Brown is often described as the sidekick of the ‘great detective’ Flambeau. But it is Brown that solves all the crimes. Brown has no interest in being the center or taking credit, his primary interest is usually freeing the innocent.
Chesterton is clearly using these stories to speak against the secularism and odd spiritualism that was developing at the time in Britain, but he is not heavy handed. There is a great quote in the mouth of Father Brown that comes up when talking about mystery that sums up the worldview of Father Brown:
“You call it queer and I call it queer, but we mean quite opposite things. The modern mind mixes up two different ideas. Mystery in the sense of what is marvelous, and mystery in the sense of what is complicated. That is half its difficulty about miracles. A miracle is startling, but it is simple. It is simple because it is a miracle. It is power coming directly from God (or the devil) instead of indirectly through nature or human wills.”
As with any short story collection, there are some that I liked more than others. I still prefer longer works instead of serialized short stories, but all of Father Brown are short stories (51 of them according to Wikipedia.) The Innocence of Father Brown is the first collection of 12.
It takes a little while to get into the story telling mode that Chesterton is using. But I did enjoy them. Downton Abbey fans might be interested in these as a counterpoint to the upper class story line of Downton Abbey. These were written during the same time period that Downton Abbey is set, but Father Brown is not a part of the upper class (although there are some characters in the book that are.)