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



No comments:

Post a Comment