“I” is for The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton – It has been over two decades since I read Father Brown stories. I found myself as charmed this summer as I was when I read them the first time. The Innocence of Father Brown is my “I” in the Alphabet in Crime Fiction hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise.
I remain attracted to the “very short Roman Catholic priest” with "a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling, he had eyes as empty as the North Sea” whose “quaint blending of Essex flatness with saintly simplicity continuously amused the Frenchman”. I relish that “everything seemed undistinguished about the priest”.
In appearance Father Brown is the antithesis of his contemporary Sherlock Holmes. Watson describes Holmes in A Study in Scarlet:
His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination. His hands were invariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments."
Their differences extend to their lives and beliefs.
Holmes is a commited city dweller. Who (except maybe for Laurie R. King) could see him residing anywhere but London? Father Brown is a rural cleric who is comfortable in the city but at home in the country.
No one would even think of Holmes becoming a member of a church. I think it doubtful he believed in God. Father Brown is a devout man who lives his faith.
Only in their brilliant minds and powers of observation are Father Brown and Sherlock Holmes alike.
Father Brown demonstrates that knowledge of crime and human life is not limited to sleuths such as the worldly Holmes. In his parishes, between quietly watching people and what he learns from his parishioners, especially in the confessional, Father Brown has gained a deep understanding of crime. In The Innocence of Father Brown the talents of the good Father are evident.
In The Blue Cross the unassuming Father Brown dupes the famed criminal, Flambeau. While the cocky criminal believes he is setting up the priest to steal a valuable Cross it is Father Brown who is manipulating him. The clever means by which Father Brown leaves a trail, his deft handling of the Cross using information gained from criminals and his penetration of Flambeau’s disguise leave Flambeau and the pursuing policeman, Valentin, bowing to Father Brown.
In The Queer Feet his powers of deduction are remarkable with regard to different sounds made by the same person walking outside the room in which he is writing.
Father Brown’s analysis of crime should be remembered by crime writers as they plan their plots:
“A crime,” he said slowly, “is like any other work of art. Don’t look surprised; crimes are by no means the only works of art that come from an infernal workshop. But every work of art, divine or diabolic, has one indispensable mark – I mean, that the centre of it is simple, however much the fulfilment may be complicated.”
I think many readers relate to Father Brown, as I do, because of his average appearance and clever mind. I admire that Father Brown defeats criminals armed only with that mind.
I am planning to continue reading more of the 51 Father Brown stories.
****My connections with Father Brown come from a shared Catholic faith. In Father Brown I see many of the traits of Catholic priests that I have known during my life.