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Collected Father Brown
on 5 December 2014
REVIEW OF THE WORDSWORTH CLASSICS PAPERBACK EDITION
This complete collection contains all of the Father Brown stories, published between 1910 and 1935. So you will find here - 'The Innocence Of Father Brown' (12 stories), 'The Wisdom Of Father Brown' (12 stories), 'The Incredulity Of Father Brown' (8 stories), 'The Secret Of Father Brown' (10 stories), and 'The Scandal Of Father Brown' (9 stories). Also included are 'The Donnington Affair' (a literary challenge, issued by Sir Max Pemberton in 1914) and 'Father Brown Solves The Donnington Affair' (Chesterton's solution to that challenge.)
For those who may be unacquainted with the oeuvre, the character of Father Brown is a whimsical and quintessentially English creation - a 'detective' quite unlike any other in the history of fiction. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the character and the stories in which he partakes are something of an acquired taste - as indeed are the majority of Chesterton's creations of fiction. I believe the word I'm looking for is 'unique'; certainly, the concocting of this particular detective and the depiction of his numerous investigations are both strikingly different to the approach taken by Conan-Doyle through his realisation of Sherlock Holmes. Father Brown you see is refreshingly human, not superhuman, and these stories are not so much 'whodunnits' as 'whydunnits', with the greatest conundrum of all being often the simple redemption of the various criminal 'sinners'. At the risk of accusations of plagiarism, I will explain myself by quoting from the book's introduction by David Stuart Davies:
'In the Father Brown tales Chesterton was breaking all the accepted rules of detective fiction. He does not tell us if the windows were locked, if there was a bloodstain on the wall or footprints on the lawn. The very merit of Chesterton's artifice is his ability to ignore such things, to leave out everything extraneous to the single theme he wants to develop within the narrative.'
In truth, the best of these Father Brown stories are to be found within the first two collections. Chesterton grew a little weary with his chubby priest detective after he had written the initial 24 stories and did not return to the subject again until 10 years later, when money woes drove him to it - and when, to a certain extent, inspiration became assailed by public expectation and the underlying financial imperative. That being said, Chesterton was never less than a hugely gifted writer - and there is always something to be cherished in each and every one of these uncommonly gentle stories.
One final comment. If you have been guided to these stories through your experience of the recent BBC TV adaptation, you will soon discover that the latter was a very loose interpretation of the former - so loose, I should say, that any connection between the two is made almost unrecognisable!