Review: The Innocence and Wisdom of Father Brown

Review: The Innocence and Wisdom of Father Brown

“In answer to a curt but civil summons, the door opened inwards and there shambled into the room a shapeless little figure, which seemed to find its own hat and umbrella as unmanageable as a mass of luggage.”

–G.K. Chesteron

Some of you may think of “quirky detectives” as part of television…Monk, Longstreet, Columbo, for example.

But G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown is definitely the same sort of character.  He solves crimes (often quickly and easily), but he’s not a physical person.  Nor is he a deductive reasoner like Sherlock Holmes…at least, not exactly.  He often makes his (correct) deductions based on how a person would behave.

He has a marvelous mind:

“The mind of the little priest was always a rabbit-warren of wild thoughts that jumped too quickly for him to catch them.”

but almost no one pays any attention to him.  That’s not just because of his bland appearance…the name “Brown” is descriptively nondescript.  It’s partially because he has very few social skills.  He doesn’t quite know what is appropriate to say or what people expect him to do, and he’ll ramble on without making much sense until someone figures out he has cracked the case.  It has almost the feel of an autism spectrum disorder.

The reader, by the way, often doesn’t know what Father Brown is thinking until later.  It’s not exactly a mystery…you can try to solve it before he does, but he’s more likely to get you thinking about what appears to be a situation without a solution.

“Father Brown was made of two men. There was a man of action, who was as modest as a primrose and as punctual as a clock; who went his small round of duties and never dreamed of altering it. There was also a man of reflection, who was much simpler but much stronger, who could not easily be stopped; whose thought was always (in the only intelligent sense of the words) free thought. He could not help, even unconsciously, asking himself all the questions that there were to be asked, and answering as many of them as he could; all that went on like his breathing or circulation.”

I really do understand that part of it.  My mind constantly runs through the possibilities when I’m seeing a movie or reading a book…it can be a bit annoying, actually.  I’m not going to claim to have Father Brown’s powers, though…or his lack of communicative skills.  🙂

The writing is elegantly crafted:

“For we human beings are used to inappropriate things; we are accustomed to the clatter of the incongruous; it is a tune to which we can go to sleep. If one appropriate thing happens, it wakes us up like the pang of a perfect chord.”

The two books I read were collections of short stories: The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) and The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914).  These books are both in the public domain, and you can find them for free online.  I read them as part of The Classic Mystery Collection, which is quite a bargain at $2.99 for more than 100 works.

I do have to warn people that there are stereotypes, and the use of the “n word”.  The latter is really only in The God of the Gongs…and The Perishing of the Pendragons has a dehumanizing description of servants as “bipeds”.  This is a problem which you can run into in works of the period, but some will certainly find it offputting.  You may want to skip those two stories in particular if you think you would find that offensive.

Overall, I did enjoy the stories.  They are little character-driven stories, definitely British, often thoughtful, perhaps more often philosophical.  There is murder (including a beheading), but no excessive gore, in my opinion.  What happens is often funny and charming…I’d say whimsical might be the best description.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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