Friday, November 10, 2017

Father Brown: The Essential Tales by G.K. Chesterton

Father Brown: The Essential Tales is supposed to be a "definitive collection" of fifteen of the Father Brown mysteries (short stories) by G. K. Chesterton, selected by the American Chesterton Society and with an introduction by P. D. James.

If you don't know about Father Brown, he's this little priest who uses his knowledge of human nature to solve crimes. But this being Chesterton, the writing is rich and lyrical and Father Brown is definitely not a conventional detective. He takes leaps of logic that end up making sense because it follows the human heart.

These stories are really more about the human condition as Chesterton saw it than a normal mystery. The writing is a lot more lyrical than something by say, Agatha Christie (who I also love dearly) and contains sentences like:
"A man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sons is not likely to be wholly unaware of human nature."

"Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak. 
'I know a man,' he said, 'who began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire. And in one of those dizzy places, where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his rained turned also and he fancied he was God. So that though he was a good man, he committed a great crime.' "
Father Brown is the central figure in all these stories. Occasionally, someone called Flambeau will appear, first as a master thief and then as a semi-private detective (and Father Brown's friend). But there isn't a Watson or Hastings, so it's best not to expect one. Of Flambeau, he is once described (as he packs for a boat journey):
"Flambeau had stocked it with such things as his special philosophy considered necessary. They reduced themselves, apparently, to four essentials: tins of salmon, if he should want to eat; loaded revolvers, if he should want to fight, a bottle of brandy, presumably in case he should faint; and a priest, presumably in case he should die."
Which I think is a wonderful description of him. My favourite stories definitely feature him.

I think the Father Brown stories are for fans of Chesterton, for people who already like Orthodoxy or The Man Who Was Thursday. While I adore his writing, I realise it's not for everyone so you may want to try a story or two before deciding if you want to read the whole book.

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