G.K. Chesterton was greatly inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. In 1911 Chesterton created Father Brown, a Catholic Priest who is the complete opposite of Sherlock Holmes. While Holmes used deduction and logic to solve tenebrous cases, the cleric Father Brown used intuitive and sympathetic worldliness to solve mysteries. Father Brown in most stories is accompanied by a master thief turned detective Hercule Flambeau.
The Innocence of Father Brown is a collection of short stories which were published in 1911. There are 12 stories of whose capsule reviews and plot summary you can see below.
The Blue Cross - The famous master criminal Flambeau is in London and he is being tracked down by Valentin himself, the head of the Paris Police and the most famous investigator of the world. Valentin who is searching for Flambeau all over London notices some very queer incidents involving two priests and decides to follow them. These bizzare incidents might be the work of a lunatic or of a brilliant, eccentric amateur sleuth.
We get introduced to Father Brown and also to Flambeau. Father Brown in his own stories is self effacing, he is of the Miss Marple category of detectives and not Poirot or Sir Henry Merrivale. A nice introduction to Father Brown stories.
The Secret Garden - The great French detective Valentin is throwing a party at his house, one of the guests discovers a dead body and an anonymous severed head in the backyard of Valentin's house. All the guests present immediately come under suspicion, Father Brown absolves the guests and comes up with a shocking solution. One of the best stories in the book, a perfect murder mystery with a twist ending
The Queer Feet - A robbery is committed in one of the most exclusive and expensive hotels in London. A group of plutocrats have had their most cherished possessions stolen. Father Brown is at the right place and at the right time. I can't give much details about the story without spoiling it so I will only state that the robbery is the work of a genius but the way Father brown suspects the criminal is quite unbelievable, by the sound of his feet movement!
The Flying Stars - A plutocrat gifts her beloved goddaughter three white and vivid diamonds on boxing day in the presence of her father, lover, uncle and an inconspicuous priest. Later, all of them perform in a Christmas Pantomime and the diamonds are stolen in front of tens of witnesses. Another nice little mystery from G.K. Chesterton. There is an added dimension of Socialists and Capitalists in the story.
The Invisible Man - A few years ago Laura was proposed by two very peculiar men, a dwarf and a giant. She politely refused both of them. Now, when a new suitor "Angus" tries to charm her, she is worried that her past might come back to haunt her and it does, the Dwarf enters her life again. The Dwarf after reappearing in Laura's life starts getting veiled threats from someone. Angus wants to discuss the case with Flambeau, the thief who has turned detective. Before leaving to meet Flambeau, Angus creates a security ring around the dwarf so that he is protected by the enigmatic threat. But under the watch of four men the poor fellow is still murdered. Father Brown assists Flambeau in solving the case of the Invisible Man.
An interesting premise by Chesterton almost a locked room mystery, but a very clumsy ending which ruins the otherwise flawless story.
The Honour of Israel Gow - The Earl of Glengyle has mysteriously disappeared, his servant is the prime suspect in his disappearance. Flambeau and Father Brown found some very peculiar vestiges in the Earl's home. Flambeau and Father Brown think that the case involves devil worship, black magic and murder. But things are not always what they seem. You have to be pretty credulous to believe this ending, but after reading 70 odd mystery novels you will believe anything.
The Wrong Shape - A poet is found dead in his room, everyone thinks its suicide except Father Brown. This is a locked room murder mystery which is very well written and executed. The story is probably the best out of the whole plethora of mysteries. The Wrong Shape also exposes the religious bigotry of Chesterton where Christian priests are always shown as virtuous and honest but priests and followers of other religions are depicted as greedy, ignoble devil worshipers.
The Sins of Prince Saradine - Flambeau has been invited by Prince Saradine to pay him a visit on his islet. When Flambeau with his friend Father Brown reach the islet, they found that the Prince is a hunted man who has more skeletons in the closet then he can afford, what ensues is a duel between Prince Saradine and his nemesis. Father Brown discovers The Sins of Prince Saradine. A very predictable mystery, with superfluous and boring writing.
The Hammer of God - A womanizing and ignoble drunk is struck down at the front of his lovers house. The jealous husband is the obvious suspect but he is miles away from the scene of the crime. The Strike on dead man indicates that he was struck with an inordinate amount of force. Villagers believe this to be a hammer of god but Father Brown thinks this act is not divine justice but mortal machinations. This one is an easy mystery to figure out but an entertaining one.
The Eye of Apollo - Flambeau's new office is interestingly located, below his office is the office of a duo of beautiful sisters and above is the temple of a pagan religion. It's handsome priest has magnetic powers over people, and during one of his sermons which he conducts from his temple, one of the sisters mysteriously jumps to her death and leaves her possessions in a will to the pagan priest.
The Sign of the Broken Sword - 14 pages and the story still seemed protracted. In my opinion the worst story out of the lot. An incoherent plot about a Genearl committing a great Sin and then hiding it by figuratively growing a forest is rather disappointing. Chesterton during this and many other stories suppresses dialogue between characters and superfluously narrates places and characters. I don't know why authors do this? It is alright to be descriptive to create an atmosphere but too many minute details and the author's own digressions often bore the reader and those portions make the reader loose interest. I often like narration and description to occur between dialogue and not vice versa. I think Agatha Christie was very good at this and as a result she is the most spell binding author of them all and has the highest readership(even Erle Stanley Gardner is another example of an author whose books are very popular then most other authors and he uses a lot of dialogue).
The Three Tools of Death - A universally loved jolly old man who is the most unlikely victim is found murdered outside his house. His house is full of well wishers his Secretary, who is also his best friend, his loving daughter and his faithful servant. As the focus of the story moves from one suspect to another, it becomes clear to Father Brown that there is more to the story then meets the eye. A well written and excellent mystery, nice and crisp.
I will give The Innocence of Father Brown 3 out of 5 Stars. Some stories are very good and others very poor. Overall a nice introduction to Father Brown and the writing prowess of G.K. Chesterton.
One thing which I want to add on to this already long review is the treatment of Atheists in the book. Atheists are shown in a very poor light in the book, almost always proven wrong and ridiculed. I wonder what Chesterton would think of Atheists now. Atheists are perhaps the most intelligent, logical and pacifist people.
I hope theists can someday understand Atheism, like Atheists understand Theism.
Richard Dawkins, perhaps one of the greatest minds of our times once said "Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time."
I'm submitting this review as part of the Color coded challenge and the final review for the BBC.
oh! by the way G.K. Chesterton is "Dr Gideon Fell"
Where can you buy it? Its available for free on gutenberg, I bought a paperback for Rs 150.