Monday, December 06, 2010

Let Brown Do It For You

On a recent bidness trip, I was able to bide some portion of the lengthy flight times by enjoying Father Brown: The Essential Tales by G.K. Chesterton:

G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown may seem a pleasantly doddering Roman Catholic priest, but appearances deceive. With keen observation and an unerring sense of man’s frailties–gained during his years listening to confessions–Father Brown succeeds in bringing even the most elusive criminals to justice.

This definitive collection of fifteen stories, selected by the American Chesterton Society, includes such classics as “The Blue Cross,” “The Secret Garden,” and “The Paradise of Thieves.” As P. D. James writes in her Introduction, “We read the Father Brown stories for a variety pleasures, including their ingenuity, their wit and intelligence, and for the brilliance of the writing. But they provide more. Chesterton was concerned with the greatest of all problems, the vagaries of the human heart.”

While I've long admired Chesterton's non-fiction writing--in particular Orthodoxy (one of the best works on belief ever penned) and his biographies of Saint Francis of Assisi and Thomas Acquinas--I haven't sampled his fictional works until I picked up the Father Brown collection. Not surprisingly, it more than lives up to expectations. Chesterton's depictions of the characters that Father Brown encounters and the settings these stories play out in is masterful. His work with Father Brown is in some manner a combination of the elements of mystery offered by Arthur Conan Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes stories imbued with a dose of the wit and wry observations of English social life as captured by P.G. Wodehouse. There's are also not so subtle messages on morality and the true nature of man from a person in position to understand both better than most.