Father Brown is a short, unpresuming, non-descript Catholic priest who
has a knack for being present at mysterious murders and thefts.
As a priest, he has heard a lot of confessions, so that his innocence
is only on the surface. His understanding of the psychological
and spiritual nature of Man, coupled with his keen observation and
deductive reasoning enables him to solve the most mysterious of
crimes. At the same time, his desire to lead people to repentance
causes him to confront the criminal himself in such a fashion that they
have the option to continue in their crime, or repent and begin a new
Blue Cross: Father Brown ensures a remarkable occurrence
happens at each stop on his travels with the great thief Flambeau,
allowing the the detective Valentin to catch up to them and apprehend
The Secret Garden:
Father Brown discovers that the atheist Valentin murdered an American
considering donating a large sum of money to the Catholic church by
observing broken twigs far from a tree and the critical observation
that the beheading was done so that head that was found would be
assumed to be that of the body.
The Queer Feet: Father
Brown prevents Flambeau from stealing the ornate silverware of the
Twelve Fishers by noticing that the footsteps upstairs sometimes walked
like that of a loafer, a gentleman, and a waiter, a strange pattern
that was solved with the observation that a gentleman's attire is very
similar to a waiter's. Flambeau played both parts masterly, but
was prevented from absconding with his prize by Father Brown's astute
The Flying Stars:
Flambeau steals costly diamonds from a Christmas party by dressing up
as the harlequin (which requires lots of flashy glass) in a classic
Christmas skit, in the process actually beating up a real policeman,
but is turned from a life of crime when Father Brown tells him where
his, currently relatively moral, thefts will lead.
The Invisible Man:
Father Brown solves a murder where no one saw anyone enter or leave an
apartment complex by observing that the postman is effectively unseen,
his presence is so routine and usual that people who are looking for
someone entering or leaving may not even consider the postman.
The Honor of Israel Gow:
The death of a nobleman is investigated by Father Brown and the now
private investigator Flambeau. The piles of snuff, candles with
no sticks, and the manuscripts with the name of God removed are not
dark evil, but merely Israel Gow, who was promised all the gold in the
house taking only and exactly what he was given.
The Wrong Shape: Father
Brown's noting that death of famous writer who had taken ill must have
been a murder because the pieces of paper that he had written on were
cut inconsistently, causing the doctor who killed the writer because he
loved the writer's wife, to confess the murder to Father Brown.
The Sins of Prince Saradine:
Prince Saradine acquired many enemies who wanted to kill them and had a
brother who blackmailed him. Father Brown discovers that after
Saradine learned of an former exploit of Flambeau's, Saradine gave his
property to his brother who had finally bled him dry and lives as his
brothers' butler, thus causing his enemy to think his brother was the
The Hammer of God:
Father Brown shows a (presumably Episcopal) curate that his failure to
pray humbly on the ground, instead of high on the spire, lead him to
take God's justice out on his brother, and by his actions, Father Brown
leads the curate to repentance.
The Eye of Apollo:
Father Brown reveals that a priest of the new religion of
sun-worshipers kills a blind woman by building a romantic relationship
with her, then calling to her that the elevator was ready and then
soundlessly taking it to the next floor so that she falls to her death
(this was before automatic doors), but that he was cheated out of the
inheritance that she had left him by her sister who had left a fountain
pen deliberately incompletely filled so that her signature would not
appear on the will.
The Sign of the Broken Sword:
Father Brown deduces that a brilliant general leads a suicide charge in
order to hide body that he killed in inevitable dead bodies, but after
the magnanimous opposing general released his prisoners, the general's
brigade hung him, since they had figured out his crime, even though the
public did not know. Father Brown does not reveal his discovery
so that the general's son would not be disgraced.
The Three Tools of Death:
Father Brown clears the servant of a recovered alcoholic of his
master's murder, by showing that there was too much evidence for a
murder, but the right amount of evidence for a foiled suicide of the
master whose outward appearance of happiness and optimistic world view
did not prevent his hopelessness. The suicide ultimately
succeeded because his daughter thought that the servant was trying to
kill her father and cut the rope that held him to the attic window that
the servant had intended to tie him up and secure him from himself with.
The twelve stories in this volume carry a certain Victorian feel in the
complicated sentence construction and the use of pithy adjectival
phrases that succinctly describe a type of person or segment of
society. ("With a French combination of reason and violence
Flambeau simply said 'Murder!'... [the French national sentiment
may have changed somewhat since the 1910 publication of this
volume]) On the whole, however, Chesterton is direct, albeit in a
little fancier language than is common in the early twenty-first
century. The plot, however, has no such directness, with the
initially described scene
becoming stranger and stranger until Father Brown uncovers the key at
The Father Brown stories, are similar to the much more well-known
Sherlock Holmes stories in their revelation of impenetrable mysteries,
but have different underlying assumptions on how they can be
solved. The key idea of Sherlock Holmes is that we can solve
difficult problems if we are observant and ruthlessly logical.
Father Brown shares this Modernist view in his approach to problem
solving, as he always solves his problems with keen observation and
deductive reasoning, but these play less of a role than with Sherlock
Holmes. Holmes' deductions are based purely on objective facts,
while Father Brown incorporates more a qualitative knowledge of
humanity into his decision making. ("I tell you, I knew he had
done it, even before I knew what had been done. ... There
came a crash and a scream down the street, and the priest of Apollo did
not start or look around. I did not know what it was. But I
knew that he was expecting it.") While solving the mystery is the
end for Sherlock Holmes, it is a means to an end for Father Brown, who
ultimately hopes to redeem criminals.
Indeed, while the art of Holmes is the purpose of Conan Doyle's
stories, Chesterton often has a moral message, for which the plot is
merely the housing. Sometimes this is outlined in a speech (as in
Father Brown's speech at the end of the first story) but often it is
more subtley embedded in the tragedy that unfolds because of a
particular world view. For instance:
Sherlock Holmes is strictly about events; the characters
themselves do not usually grow or change, although occassionally the
reader's perceptions of them do. In contrast, the Father
Brown stories are very much about people, with the mystery as a means
to painting a picture of the hearts of Man. These are fun stories
to read, filled with vivid descriptions and witty insights into human
nature, as well as deeper themes for those inclined to pursue them.
- "The Secret Garden": Atheists can be just as extreme about
their religion as Christians
- "The Wrong Shape": The world view that there is no
just amoral functions and instincts, can lead people to commit
- "The Three Tools of Death": An optimistic philosophy is an
inadequate world view
- "The Hammer of God": A lack of humility will lead even the
followers of Christ into dreadful sin.
The Father Brown stories do not define
a genre as much as Sherlock Holmes does, simply because logic and
reason is the fundamental part of the mystery genre. Father
Brown's focus being much more as a subtle evangelist of the Catholic
faith than a brilliant logician, the stories are not so
remarkable. However, they are a good illustration of how
Christian themes can be effectively embedded into great stories.
||Ordinary and forgettable
Catholic priest. Humble, yet extremely effective at both solving
mysteries and changing hearts.
"Where does a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. But what
does he do if there is no forest? ... He grows a forest to hide
it in, " said the priest in an obscure voice. "A fearful sin."
"I leave [the decision whether to turn yourself in] to you because you
have not gone very far wrong, as assassins go. You did not try to
fix the crime on the smith when it was easy, ... That was
one of the gleams that it is my business to find in assassins."
thief. Committed his crimes in new and creative ways, but was
ultimately persuaded to go honest when Father Brown showed him how his
life would start of well, but his crime would spiral into ever more
ugliness until it destroyed him. As a detective, he seems to
mostly exist to bring Father Brown into the story.
||Brilliant French head of
police. Such a staunch supporter of atheism that he murdered a
man for considering a large donation that would help the Catholic