A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of finishing The Complete Father Brown, which covers all of the adventures of G. K. Chesterton’s famous priestly sleuth. The fictional detectives who came before Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes relied upon rudimentary thinking skills, luck, and enterprise, while Holmes himself used a combination of precise observation and deductive reasoning. Father Brown, though he also has keen powers of observation, differentiates himself from the detectives prior to him by using his knowledge of the human heart to solve crimes.
What allows Father Brown to understand the human heart so well? As you may have guessed, his performing the Sacrament of Penance or Confession gives Father Brown his special knowledge of the darkness within the heart. He understands also that he himself might, under the right circumstances and not aided by grace, have committed some of these crimes. And so, he places himself in the perpetrator’s shoes in order to solve each mystery. Interestingly, Fr. Brown is more concerned with the criminal’s soul than bringing him to justice, and occasionally he declines to bring the crook before a state judge as long as the crook is willing to beg forgiveness of the Just Judge.
It is this facet of Father Brown which gives these mysteries a flavor one finds no where else. Unlike in reading Sherlock Holmes, one finds one’s understanding expands in addition to one’s intellect. Chesterton brings forth a wide variety of actors in each tale, almost equaling Dickens or Shakespeare for the sheer variety of characters. I can only recall about three stories which felt unoriginal, i.e. a similar to a prior mystery. Then again, the surprises and new twists Chesterton adds to religious and philosophical discussions do not disappoint either. I highly recommend these stories to keen observers of human nature who love philosophical and theological discussions.