Reason for Reading: I've always wanted to read Chesterton and I've always wanted to read his Father Brown stories. I'm finally getting around to it!
This is the first collection of Fr. Brown stories. All were previously published in magazines before they were collected in book form. While Chesterton is known as a great Catholic theologian, these first stories were written before his conversion. This being my very first time reading Chesterton, I must say I was not entirely impressed with his theology. Fr. Brown believes, rightly so, that his job is saving souls; however, the legal aspects and worldly justice of the perpetrators, he believes, is of no concern to him. He leaves that to the police, does not always tell the police everything he knows and the stories often end with us being told who committed the crime and why but before any police intervention arrives. I found this odd at first and didn't always agree with Fr. Brown's theology, feeling he took the role of "judge" which is not a priest's place. Only God's. We can see Chesterton getting the feel for his characters and his writing style in these stories as he wavers back and forth between having a narrator who speaks directly to the reader and one who is a simple 3rd person omnipotent. Towards the end he seems to discard the actively participating narrator in favour of the omnipotent one which I was glad for in the end. As to the mysteries themselves, I enjoyed quite much. Rather simple cases where Fr. Brown and his detective friend, an ex-thief, Flambeau, use intuition and skills Fr. B. has learned in the confessional on human character to solve the murders. Chesterton has some original ideas and some of his tales are rather gruesome, for the times, making them fun, too. Essentially Father Brown is the polar opposite of Sherlock Holmes who uses clues, scientific evidence and logic to solve his cases. Overall, the work was not what I'd really expected but I enjoyed it nevertheless and will continue on, in time, reading these classics.
1. The Blue Cross - The very first Fr. Brown story and our first introduction to him is a little strange as we really hardly meet him at all. My appetite for this clever little man was whetted though. As Valentine follows two priests through London, knowing one of them is the criminal he intends to arrest he is lead on a chase of strange incidents as one priest causes trouble everywhere the pair goes. At the end Fr. Brown introduces himself and explains how he knew the criminal from the beginning and what the purpose of his incidents were. Not exactly exciting or mysterious but does make me curious as to what I shall find in the following stories. 3/5
2. The Secret Garden - The main character of this story is the same as from the first, Valentine, a Paris police detective. Again Fr. Brown does not come into the story until near the end but he is a key player here and we do have a real murder case, a rather gruesome one too. This is a "locked room" story only the room this time is a walled garden. At a dinner gathering, an unknown man is found decapitated in the garden by one of the guests, the supposed culprit takes off in a huff and later another decapitated head, with no body, is found outside the grounds. I loved this mystery and liked the closer, though still only brief, glimpse into Fr. Brown as a character. 3/5
3. The Queer Feet - OK, this is brilliant. The stories so far have been narrated in the third person but every now and then the narrator crosses the line and speaks to the reader and mentions himself as "I". This is infrequent but just enough to let us know someone close to the cases (possibly Fr. Brown himself) is telling us the story. We are not told who this person is but if you pay attention you will figure out who it is in this story. Someone we met in the first story. I love how these individual stories are shaping up to be interrelated in a mild but meaningful way. A fun case here of robbery and subterfuge. Fr. Brown is the main character now and is a charming soul. Witty, funny and compassionate as well as extremely intelligent. 5/5
4. The Flying Stars - A change in narration brings this story back to the straight third person, no more crossing the line, but the certain individual from previous stories is now a main character and I'm going to assume be Watson to Fr. Brown's Holmes, though only in a relational sense as the characters couldn't be more different. This story tells the tale of the great criminal Flambeau's most wonderful crime and his last one before he repented. Gathered together for the evening are a cross-section of people who know one another including those manor-born, a journalist, a Canadian, a Socialist, assorted attractive women and the unimposing Fr. Brown. This is a Christmas gathering and the Canadian excites everyone about an old fashioned pantomime and they proceed to enact the entertainment. Only once the show is almost over Sir Leopold has just discovered the theft of three priceless African diamonds he had on his possession as his gift to his niece. It only takes Fr. Brown a handful of questions to sort things out and then he runs off to deal with the situation. Fr. Brown knows who the criminal is and gives him a final chance to prove his honestly and trustworthiness. Father is much more concerned about the state of the villain's soul than he is about their earthly punishments. This makes him a compassionate man and I'm finding that not every "bad guy" is going to end in the hands of the law, as Fr. Brown decides they deserve another chance with earthly authorities as the have with the heavenly Father. The story was farcical and fun. (4/5)
5. The Invisible Man - A young woman must relate a strange story to a man who asks her to marry him. Seems she is haunted by two men she spurned in the past who went off to make something of themselves to win her hand in marriage, though she would not have had them even then. The woman receives letters from the one man telling of his great success and dreads the day he may turn up on her doorstep. Then she hears threatening voices of the other man out of thin air that the first shall not have her. Then the first man, quite small in stature is murdered and her young lover brings in Flambeau, who brings along Father Brown who quickly shows us all that a man may be physically present but is easily mentally invisible to almost all others around. This goes a bit fast. (3/5)
6. The Honor of Israel Gow - The format seems to be established now. The story is written in the third person, the narrator no longer identifies himself. The basic premise is that ex-criminal Flambeau is now an amateur detective and enlists the help of his clever and astute friend Father Brown. This is a tricky case where no murder has been committed but a recluse no one has seen for years suddenly dies and after calling the authorities his only man-servant buries the body. Flambeau, Fr. Brown & the chief of police show up some days later to make sure no foul deeds or trickery have been put in place. They find the old hermit was an extreme eccentric but a small discovery by the Fr. leads him to questioning whether dark arts are at the bottom of the matter and an exhumation is called for. Something is up but not what they had expected. This story was a bit shorter than the others. I did quite enjoy it. Fr. Brown is starting to come alive as a character now. He makes very witty remarks about the human condition, religion, politics of the time; he has a great sense of humour and also a sense of justice. Fr. Brown carefully examines whether a crime is duly noted for earthly punishment or not. I feel the stories have settled into themselves with this one. 4/5
7. The Wrong Shape - Well, seems I was wrong. This story has a narrator who refers to himself as I but is writing in the third person and gives no impression as to who he is; but apparently no one connected to the events. Brown and Flambeau are visiting a rather decadent sort of person who is close to dying; Flambeau as he knew him from his former life and Brown in the course of his priestly duties. Another good mystery which creeps upon us as circumstances are made unusual for most of the story before the body even shows up. I like how Fr. Brown's mind works; he doesn't simply know the answer right away, but the right clue sends his mind straight to the answer. The timing for this murder seems a little unbelievable but still a clever case and solution. I'm enjoying Brown and Flambeau. I'm wondering at the endings of all these stories though as police apprehension or legal justice does not seem to be the point or even necessary. Rather that the perpetrator confesses, repents, feels shame, guilt and what happens to him afterward does not seem to be our business. Not sure on this, will have to see how the rest of the stories continue. 4/5
8. The Sins of Prince Saradine - This story is rather different than the others in that it isn't exactly a mystery per se. First of all we are back to the impersonal third person narrative and I hope these stories eventually fall into place with one device or the other. So, not a mystery, but a strange set of circumstances which end in a duel, a dead man and a man guilty of his murder. The police appear and take their man away. At this point Fr. Brown picks up that something strange about the situation has occurred and he rapidly unravels the truth to his friend Flambeau. No one is innocent here but the story ends with Brown confronting the one who got away with their evil deeds, supposing him to be a creature of evil. Interesting, but not my favourite, more philosophical dealing with people being inherently evil, which I do not believe. 3/5
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