G K Chesterton’s intuitive Father Brown

Innocent detective learnt his trade from hours spent in confessional box

Father Brown creator G K Chesterton
was the first president of the Detection Club
The brilliant writer G K Chesterton earned his place in the history of crime fiction by creating Father Brown, an unusual amateur detective, who as an unassuming Catholic priest is well aware of the frailties of human nature.

Father Brown appeared in 53 short stories between 1910 and 1936. He solves mysteries and crimes using his intuition and his keen understanding of human nature.

The author, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, was born in 1874 - 147 years ago today (29 May) - in Kensington in London. He became a philosopher, lay theologian and literary and art critic and was a prolific writer.  He is estimated to have written about 80 books, many on theology and literary criticism, 200 short stories, 4,000 essays, some appearing in the form of newspaper columns, and several plays.

He was baptised into the Church of England but entered full communion with the Catholic Church in 1922. Chesterton is said to have loosely based Father Brown on the Right Reverend Monsignor John O’Connor, a parish priest who was involved in Chesterton’s conversion to Catholicism.

Chesterton was elected as the first president of the Detection Club and served from 1930 to 1936 until he was succeeded by his good friend, the crime writer E C Bentley. He opened his novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, with a poem written to Bentley.

The first Father Brown story is included in this collection
The first Father Brown story is
included in this collection
Despite his many other literary works, Chesterton will always be remembered as the creator of Father Brown, a character who became so popular that many films and TV series have been made about him.

Father Brown made his first appearance in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post in July 1910 in the short story, The Blue Cross. This story, and others written later, came out in book form in The Innocence of Father Brown.

Shabby and lumbering, with a face like a Norfolk dumpling, dropping his umbrella and unable to control the parcels he is carrying, Father Brown seems an improbable sleuth but his innocence is probably the secret of his success.

At the end of the story, The Blue Cross, he delivers a master criminal into the hands of the French detective who has been pursuing him. The criminal, Flambeau, and the master detective, Valentin, both bow to him in recognition of his superior detection skills. At this point, ’the little Essex priest blinked about for his umbrella.’

The master criminal, who has been disguised as a Catholic priest, cannot believe Father Brown has seen through him and has outwitted him and asks him to explain how he did it.

Father Brown replies: ‘Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil? But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren’t a priest.’

‘What?’ asked the thief, almost gaping.

‘You attacked reason,’ said Father Brown. ‘It’s bad theology.’

This made me think of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, who explains to the police at the end of each novel why she discovered the murderer before they did. Also seeming very innocent, she made her first appearance in The Murder at the Vicarage, published in 1930. I am fairly certain that Agatha Christie, who was also a leading light in the Detection Club, must have been a Father Brown fan.

The Blue Cross appears in The Innocence of Father Brown and The Complete Father Brown Stories.

Novels and short stories by G K Chesterton are available from or




100 Must-Read Crime Novels

A unique selection of stunning examples of the genre

This handy guide by Richard Shephard and Nick Rennison provides a treat for all lovers of detective fiction by choosing 100 books to give readers an overview of the rich and diverse crime writing that has been produced over the years.

The authors did not intend to provide a list of the 100 best crime novels because of the difficulty of comparing books written in different eras and with varied intentions.

An invaluable guide for beginners and 
established fans of the crime fiction genre

They aimed to provide a book that would be useful as a starting point for readers wanting to explore the genre. Their selections are arranged A to Z by author and describe the plot of the novel without spoiling it for prospective readers. They include information about the authors and where they are placed in the history of crime fiction.

At the end of each entry there is a Read On list with suggestions of books to read by stylistically similar authors. Most authors have one entry only, but Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been allowed two entries, because they have been judged so important to the genre. 

There is also a brief history of crime fiction and lists of the winners of the Edgar Award and the CWA Golden Dagger Award right from the beginning.

The book selects many well-known crime writers but there are also some names that are less familiar. E C Bentley has an entry for his ground-breaking 1913 novel, Trent’s Last Case. Lawyer Michael Gilbert has been chosen for his 1950 legal mystery Smallbone Deceased and Cyril Hare, who was a judge in real life, for his legal mystery When the Wind Blows, published in 1949.

Francis Iles, with Malice Aforethought, and Michael Innes, with Hamlet Revenge! have both been chosen for novels written in the 1930s.

Having to pick just one Dorothy L Sayers novel, it is fascinating to see that  they went for The Nine Tailors, published in 1934.  For Josephine Tey, they picked her 1948 novel, The Franchise Affair.

Ruth Rendell manages to get two entries, both as herself with An Unkindness of Ravens (1985) and as Barbara Vine, with A Fatal Inversion (1987).

European writers are represented with entries on Gaston Leroux, Georges Simenon, Henning Mankell and Manuel Vasquex Montalban.

American writers featured include Eric Ambler, Dashiell Hammett, Donna Leon and Vera Caspary.

This guide offers readers an invaluable introduction to authors they may never have tried before but might grow to love.

100 Must-Read Crime Novels is packed with useful book suggestions and fascinating information for crime fiction fans.

It is available from or





Dame Margaret and G D H Cole

Left-wing couple formed brilliant mystery writing team

Margaret Cole was honoured for services to local government and education
Margaret Cole was honoured for services
to local government and education

Socialist politician, poet and writer Dame Margaret Isabel Cole formed an unusual partnership with her husband, George Douglas Howard Cole, to write more than 30 detective novels and volumes of short mystery stories.

Born Margaret Postgate on 6 May, 1893, she studied at Cambridge University and though female students at the time were not allowed to graduate, after completing her course she became a classics teacher at St Paul’s Girls School and began writing poetry. Her poem, The Falling Leaves, a response to the First World War, is currently on the GCSE English Literature syllabus.

Margaret started questioning her Anglican upbringing after reading H G Wells and George Bernard Shaw while at Girton College, Cambridge and she also embraced socialism.

In 1918 she married G D H Cole, a political theorist, economist and historian. He was a prolific writer of political non-fiction between 1913 and the 1950s.

G D H and M Cole’s first joint effort at a detective novel, Death of a Millionaire, was published in 1925.

The Giant Book of Great Detective Stories
The Giant Book of Great
Detective Stories 
I recently read and enjoyed a short story by the couple, Superintendent Wilson’s Holiday, which was published in 1928. I was fortunate enough to come across it in The Giant Book of Great Detective Stories edited by Herbert Van Thal.

Evidently a series character, Superintendent Wilson had been working very hard solving crimes and so his physician and sidekick, Michael, who like Sherlock Holmes’s Watson is a friend and medical adviser to the great detective, suggests they take a walking holiday in Norfolk.

By coincidence, they stumble across a deserted tent on the cliffs and then discover a body. Superintendent Wilson begins looking for clues and quickly establishes that a murder has taken place.

He sets about investigating, seeing things his loyal friend fails to notice, which is, of course, a familiar story. Despite no shortage of suspects, he ensures the right person is caught, convicted and hanged. Afterwards, Michael reports that Wilson is looking much better and is back to his old self. There’s nothing like a good murder investigation to put a spring in your step!

According to Martin Edwards in his book, The Golden Age of Murder, Douglas and Margaret Cole were ‘the leading lights of the Left among Golden Age detective novelists’. They also became members of the Detection Club along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ronald Knox.

As a member of the Education Committee of the London County Council, Margaret became a champion of comprehensive education. Harold Wilson gave her an OBE and she became a Dame in 1970 for services to Local Government and Education.

Dame Margaret Cole died on 7 May, 1980, the day after her 87th birthday.

Many of G D H and M I Cole’s joint mystery novels are out of print, but second-hand copies can be found on

Martin Edwards's The Golden Age of Murder is available from or