The Complete Father Brown Stories, By G.K.Chesterton

Mysteries unsolved by a sanctified English gumshoe

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The Independent Culture

Not just a re-issue but a tie-in. A prefatory note informs us that it was "published to accompany the television series first broadcast on BBC One Daytime".

 If rather tall for the "little Essex priest", Mark Williams imbued the character with a fervent innocence as he did for Ron Weasley's dad in the Harry Potter films. It is a potent role, as a previous incumbent discovered. When a French child mistook Alec Guinness for a real priest while making the 1954 film Father Brown, it initiated the actor's conversion to Catholicism.

Though the sanctified gumshoe has joined the canon of eccentric English 'tecs – Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion – it is questionable if afternoon viewers will find themselves enthralled by the Father Brown on the page. Chesterton's main interest is in the creation of an elaborate "locked door" mystery, to be unpicked by his protagonist who pops up on the final page. The story entitled "The Unsoluble Problem" is an extreme example. "The murder cannot be solved," said Father Brown, "because there is no murder to solve."

Maigret, an equally intuitive detective, still appeals due to atmosphere and concision but the Father Brown stories are verbose and unevocative. They are elevated by aphorism ("The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic") and his hero's vocation. Such elements are linked in an otherwise plodding story called "The Queer Feet". Father Brown's explanation "I caught him with an unseen hook, and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread" was quoted by Waugh in Brideshead Revisited.

The best stories, such as "Hammer of God", combine a Cluedo-like yarn with theology. The wholly unpersuasive characters and far-from-assured method of murder may be accepted as conventions of the genre. After creating such an original detective it is unfortunate that Chesterton had little interest in Father Brown aside from being a vehicle for his own faith and ingenuity.