Book Review: The Secret of Father Brown

Have you wondered how the great detectives solved their cases? In The Secret of Father Brown, while visiting Flambeau’s house Father Brown meets a curious American who has to know as some of his countrymen think Father Brown is using mystical powers. Father Brown offers his explanation:

“You see, I had murdered them all myself,” explained Father Brown
patiently. “So, of course, I knew how it was done.”

Grandison Chace had risen to his great height like a man lifted to the ceiling by a sort of slow explosion. Staring down at the other he
repeated his incredulous question.

“I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully,” went on Father Brown, “I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.”

Even after further explanation, the American still doesn’t quite get it, so Father Brown introduces the stories as case studies in his method.

The eight mysteries that followed are asolid group. While, I don’t think the cases rise to the level of the brilliance of the Incredulity of Father Brown, there’s not a bad story in the lot.  Probably the weakest stories in the volume  are The Song of the Flying Fish and The Red Moon of Meru and that’s only because they seem similar similar to other attempted theft stories in other volumes.

Three of the cases were chosen for adaptation in the 1970s Father Brown TV series and are probably the best cases in the book:

“The Mirror of the Magistrate” finds Father Brown insisting that a revolutionary poet is innocent of murdering a judge. Father Brown’s ability to see the events from the poet’s perspective helps him avoid the assumptions the police fall into.

“The Man with Two Beards” finds police searching for a famous jewel thief who has emerged to rob again. He’s apparently killed while committing another robbery, but is that what really happened?  Father Brown probably faces one of his most clever and surprising adversaries in this case.

“The Actor and the Alibi” tells the story of a theatre owner being murdered where everyone seems to have an alibi. This is a case where nothing is what it seems and Father Brown has to see through  a clever rouse.

In addition to this there are a couple other noteworthy stories: “The Vanishing of the Vaudrey” is perhaps the darkest Father Brown tale I’ve read yet, while “The Chief Mourner of Marne” is one of the more profound. A man has secluded himself and is in mourning. Rumor has it that Catholic monks have forced him to do it due to a duel he fought with his brother. Father Brown seeks to uncover the truth and clear the Church of scurrilousness charges. Along the way, the story provides enormous food for thought on forgiveness.

Overall, this is a great collection with eight mysteries that will appeal strongly to any Father Brown fan and also showcases some interesting developments and growth in Chesterton’s philosophy.

Rating: 4.75 Stars out of 5.0

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