Category: Father Brown

Book Review: The Innocence of Father Brown

Note: A version of this review appeared in 2009

This is the first Father Brown short story collection by G.k. Chesterton. Father Brown was in many ways a continuation of what Chesterton wrote in his classic Orthodoxy. 

The intellectuals of Chesterton’s time viewed the orthodox Christian as superstitious and weak-minded. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, asserted his vision of orthodoxy was entirely different: conscious, sensible, winsome, and wise. 

Two years after writing Orthodoxy, he wrapped it in a Cossack and embodied it in the person of Father Brown, a physically unremarkable and humble priest, who uses his wisdom, common sense, and experience as a confessor to solve even the most baffling crimes.

It should be noted that, contrary to what many people have said, Chesterton was not a Catholic at the time he wrote the first Father Brown stories from 1910-1914. That conversion wouldn’t happen until the 1920s. However, he already knew the priest who would facilitate his confession and Father John O’Connor was the basis of the character.

To enjoy Chesterton’s books, you have to appreciate a couple of things. First of all, many are unlike any detective stories we read today.  While there’s plot and action, the main focus is the puzzle, not character development. Outside of Brown and his friend Flambeau, most of the characters remain flat. They’re stereotypical Frenchmen, Calvinists, Rich Men, and Atheists. They’re there to provide their piece of the puzzle and then get on with it.

 There’s also not any sense of danger or mayhem. There’s little violence onstage, although Chesterton can come up with some quite ghastly ways to kill a man.

This is a battle of wits between you and Father Brown, and most of the time you’re going to lose quite badly. The plot unfolds to reveal the puzzle, Father Brown solves the puzzle and the story ends, often abruptly.

What carries the stories is Chesterton’s voice which I find delightful, even when reading a book over one hundred years after the time. Chesterton uses his prose like a painter uses paint, true artistry that’s understandable to a modern reader.

Father Brown is a fun character. When he speaks, he says something important. Brown was the first in a long line of unlikely detectives that would include Charlie Chan and Inspector Columbo: the last person in the world that the criminal would be worried about finding them out. But somehow, he solves the case with a completely unexpected solution.

There are a total of twelve stories in the collection, each constituting a different mystery. Several stood out to me:

The Blue Cross: The first Father Brown story and perhaps his most iconic tale. When Chesterton originally published this short story in 1910, readers must have been shocked to see Father Brown emerge as the hero. Through the whole of the mystery, the focus had been on a police detective following him. But the makings of the great detective were in place. He would hang back as a background figure until stepping forward to solve the case. When that first story was published in September 1910, a literary star was born.

The Invisible Man: This was a fitting case, because it not only provided an extraordinarily surprising solution, but also an insight on how Father Brown surprised so many with his observations.

The Three Tools of Death: This is the first Father Brown story I heard an adaptation of, and after reading it, I appreciate it more. The solution is a gigantic surprise. It’s also a reminder that many descriptions Chesterton gives at the start of the story convey what the popular view of a character is, not necessarily what the person is really like. 

The Sign of the Broken SwordThis had to be my favorite in the collection. To give you an idea of how different these stories are from modern mysteries, the entire case takes place on an entirely different continent from where the mystery occurred, and no witnesses are questioned. The story centers around a simple riddle. 

Where does a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. But what does he do if there is no forest?

From there, the case proceeds to a startling conclusion, all without leaving a forest an ocean away from the scene of the crime.

On the negative side, the Honour of Israel Gow was absurd. Chesterton was trying to make a point about his perception of Calvinist legalism, but it fell a little flat. The solution in the Wrong Shape was not the right shape of Chesterton’s best Father Brown stories, but it was still passable.

Overall, I found the stories enjoyable and would encourage others to read them. You can read the entire book online or you can buy it on Amazon. (affiilate link.)

Audio Drama Review: The Wisdom of Father Brown, Volume 1

Colonial Radio Theatre has begun release of its second series of G.K. Chesterton’s legendary crime-solving priest, Father Brown. This latest series of sets will focus on the second book, The Wisdom of Father Brown.

First up is “The Perishing of the Pendragons,” a story featuring Father Brown, Flamebeau, and a friend encountering one of the last surviving members of a supposedly cursed sea-fearing family living on a remote island. There’s a lot of backstory until the mystery gets going but its to Father Brown’s credit that he sees the plot at all.

“The Head of Caesar”-Father Brown stumbles on a proper young lady in a quite improper place fleeing from a blackmailer who has threatened to expose her theft from the family coin collection. It’s an interesting tale with a good solution that includes a thoughtful exploration of the difference between collectors and misers or the lack thereof.

“The Absence of Mister Glass”-Father Brown goes to a super sleuth for help in investigating a young woman’s boyfriend. They find the boyfriend tied up and our super detective has to figure out what happened. He has a brilliant solution—but is it the right one? This is one of the funniest Father Brown stories and Colonial does a superb job performing it.

“Paradise of Thieves” finds Father Brown in Italy in a swirl of intrigue.over tourists and the re-emergence of a romantic bandit. In my opinion, this is one of Chesterton’s weakest stories because he gets so carried away making his points that he gives us a confusing plot where the actions of the villain are puzzling to say the least. Still, Colonial does the best they can with it and manages to capture the best the story had to offer in its atmosphere and a little bit of humor.

Overall thoughts: While all the Father Brown books have their charms, I have to admit The Wisdom of Father Brown is the book I enjoyed least. There were so many stories where mysteries were buried or hard to follow in that particular collection.

Colonial deserves credit for a collection that makes these stories accessible. G.K. Chesterton had a fantastic way with words. One of the best things about the way writer MJ Elliott does in adapting these stories.is to take Chesterton’s beautiful descriptions and commentaries and turn them into dialogue which allows the listener to enjoy the richness of it.

The direction and music are all at Colonial’s usual strong standards, and the acting is mostly very good, although there were a couple of accents that could have been done a bit better.

Still, this is a worthy and welcomed production for fans of Father Brown and the works of G.K. Chesterton.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Disclosure; I received a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Audio Drama Review: The Innocence of Father Brown, Volume 3


Colonial Radio Theatre relaunched its Father Brown line earlier this year. Previous releases of Father Brown had stories taken throughout the Father Brown canon. A release might include a story from the Innocence of Father Brown, one from the Wisdom of Father Brown, and another two from the Scandal of Father Brown.

With the relaunch, Colonial Radio Theater is grouping stories from the same book together. The first two volumes of the Innocence of Father Brown include only stories that were released previously. However, Volume 3 contains two newly adapted stories, both of which have pitfalls for would be-adaptors. Each story features JT Turner as Father Brown and is adapted by MJ Elliott from stories by GK Chesterton.

“The Eye of Apollo” is a classic story which pits Father Brown against the founder of a sun-worshiping cult who has convinced a strong-headed wealthy woman to follow his way. When she dies, it appears to have been accident with the cult leader having a perfect alibi. The actual solution has a great ironic twist that’s pure Chesterton. Colonial does a spot on job creating all the characters exactly as Chesterton wrote them.

“The Honour of Israel Gow ” is difficult to adapt because the solution borders on the absurd. Father Brown, Flambeau, and a Police Inspector go the estate of a late Scottish lord and find inexplicable occurrences including candles, snuff, unset precious stones, springs and cogs, and an odd bamboo stick out loose.

This is an interesting story as Father Brown is wrong several times. The first few time are intentional. The story has fantastic scene where Flambeau and the Inspector insist that there’s no way to explain all this and Father Brown comes up with one mind-blowing explanation after another just to prove that you could think of a solution. However, Father Brown’s tone changes considerably when he finds Catholic texts have been defaced leading him to jump to a conclusion far more sinister than what really happened. Overall, the three actors really carry the story and the result is fun without being ludicrous.

“Sign of the Broken Sword” is one of Chesterton’s most influential stories in terms of impacts  other mystery writers. It’s also a very hard story to dramatize because it consists of Father Brown and Flambeau discussing a mysterious historical event that occurred half way around the world in Brazil. I was curious how Colonial would adapt the story and they didn’t depart from the original concept. As I think about it, I believe they made the right call.

It’s easy to imagine doing an adaptation with flashbacks to Brazil or with a greatly expanded investigation by Father Brown. However, I think that would make the story weaker as the sagacity and wisdom of Father Brown is what takes center stage. The adaptation works because of a strong performance by JT Turner as Father in carrying the play and his strong chemistry with James Turner as Flambeau. It’s fascinating as Father Brown reveals takes the accepted facts of a story in which a very wise general behaved foolishly and very merciful general behaved cruelly and peels away the layers of deceit and mystery to discover a diabolical secret. Because the story doesn’t have much action, it’s not for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

“The Three Tools of Death” is one best Father Brown mysteries.  I actually based much of my Father Brown chapter in my book, All I Needed to Know I Learned from Columbo on this story. However, it’s not always gotten the respect it deserved. In the 1970s, ITV ruined the story when they adapted Father Brown for television because the original story was too politically incorrect.

Colonial, on the other hand, didn’t try to airbrush the story. Instead, they let it speak for itself and produced a faithful and well-done adaptation of this mystery that centers around Britain’s leading optimist and teetotaler being found murdered. At first, there are no weapons found, and then all the sudden, there are too many. Father Brown says something’s wrong with the crime scene, that all these weapons are “not economical.”  This is a very faithful adaptation. They even preserved the post-solution ending. Father Brown, after having unraveled one of the greatest mysteries in the history of detective fiction, goes on about his rounds as a Priest. That  tells you all you need to know about Father Brown.

The one thing that may throw some listeners is that the first and last stories have a different theme and score than the middle stories since they were first released earlier.

Overall, this collection contains four solidly produced and faithful adaptations of the Father Brown mysteries. Colonial gets high marks for being willing to take on some of the tougher to adapt early Father Brown stories and doing them justice. The result is a very entertaining two hours of classic audio mysteries.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

Note: I received a digital copy of this production in exchange for an honest review. 

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

 

Audio Drama Review: The Father Brown Mysteries Volume 5

Colonial Radio Theatre’s fifth collection of Father Brown Mysteries starring JT Turner showcases CRT’s increasing  production values. The whole collection is graced by a much more polished theme, and the general quality of acting and dialects were also up from when the series first started.

This collection features three of the most popular Brown stories.  Three of these were adapted for the 1970s ITV Father Brown television, and two by the 1980s BBC radio series and Colonial’s adaptation is at least the equal of these previous adaptations.

The stories included are:

  • The Hammer of God: The wealthy reprobate brother of a local minister is found murdered with a small hammer that hit him with a seemingly impossible amount of force.  This is one of Chesterton’s most thoughtful and clever stories. JT Turner’s portrayal of Brown’s compassion even in the midst of confronting the murderer really gives a whole new spin on that part of the story.
  • The Curse of the Golden Cross: A professor  acquires a rare golden cross, but also a deadly enemy who is determined to kill the professor and claim the cross. The professor he’s been followed to England where a vicar claims to have found the rare cross’ twin. All is not as it seems. The original story wasn’t Chesterton’s greatest, but this is a faithful adaptation that hits the key points quite nicely.
  • The Mirror and the Magistrate: A respected magistrate is murdered and suspicion falls on a radical poet who had a grudge against him. However, Father Brown is certain the poet is innocent. This one is a fun case as we hear Brown’s deconstruction of the prosecution’s case and how the fact that the prosecutor wears a wig plays into the startling conclusion.
  • The Wrong Shape:  If there was one story in this collection I expected not to like, it was this one. I didn’t get Chesterton’s original story when I read it. The written version seemed a little too metaphysical. However, I have to say I really enjoyed the radio adaptation. Colonial did a great job of bringing this more obscure but still very clever mystery to life.

Overall, I was thoroughly entertained by this set.  CRT continues to bring  these great stories to life with the humor and social commentary that Chesterton brought to the originals.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

Note: I received a copy of this production in exchange for an honest review. 

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Radio Drama Set Review: Father Brown Mysteries Vol. 4

The fourth volume of the Father Brown Mysteries from Colonial Radio Theater collects four more G.K. Chesterton stories. More importantly, the middle two stories have been previously adapted either in the 1970s British TV series or the 1980s BBC radio series.

In the  “Actor and the Alibi”, Father Brown is called in by a theater company to calm down a temperamental Italian Catholic actress and finds himself investigating the murder of the theater owner who most of the company holds to be a scoundrel. This solution as well as the distortion of reality that seems to have engulfed the situation is remarkable. Unless you have the sagacity of Father Brown, there’s little chance of solving it.

“The Worst Crime in the World”  has Father Brown concerned about a young man that might marry his niece. A strange visit to the castle-home of his reclusive father does little to allay his concerns, particularly when the young man seems to have disappeared.

“The Insoluble Problem” is a classic story that finds Father Brown and Flambeau stumbling on an impossible murder after Father Brown is called the house while Flambeau is driving to a museum protect valuable jewels. Unlike all the weird murders Father Brown has solved, is this one truly insoluble?  Really, this was a pretty clever concept that plays quite nicely with classic tropes of the mystery genre.  I’m surprised that I haven’t seen this clever plot used  more often.

“The Eye of Apollo” is a classic story which pits Father Brown against the founder of a sun-worshiping cult who has convinced a strong-headed wealthy woman to follow his way. When she dies, it appears to have been accident with the cult leader having a perfect alibi. The actual solution has a great ironic twist that’s pure Chesterton.

This is the best quality Father Brown set Colonial has put out yet. J.T. Turner has Father Brown down pat and M.J. Elliott is adept at giving listeners all the life and pleasure of the original stories. One thing I noted in this collection is how Turner would take some of Chesterton’s artful descriptive commentary and put it in the mouth of his characters.

Overall, this is a faithful and high quality adaptation that is a must for fans of Father Brown and of classic mystery.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.