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The Innocence of Father Brown

This first collection of Father Brown mysteries, widely considered the author’s best, includes "The Blue Cross" "The Hammer of God," "The Eye of Apollo" and more. Father Brown is the opposite of Sherlock Holmes—the quiet, nondescript little priest whom nobody notices.

Background of The Innocence of Father Brown

The Innocence of Father Brown is a collection of short mysteries published in 1911 by Cassell & Company. Written by G. K. Chesterton, the stories center around the character of Father Brown who is based off of Father John O’Connor, the priest who would later help Chesterton convert to Catholicism. The character of Father Brown is a short, squat Roman Catholic priest in London. Father Brown wears plain priest’s clothing, carried a large umbrella, and has an incredible intuition about human evil. 

The first story, The Blue Cross, introduces Father Brown, who is often accompanied and assisted by M. Hercule Flambeau, a reformed criminal. He is featured in five volumes of short stories, the first of which is The Innocence of Father Brown. Though he handles the crimes he solves with a realistic and logical approach, he also believes that the supernatural often plays a part in everyday life. 

Crime as a theme

Something found in all Father Brown stories is the element of an ‘impossible crime’. For example, in “The Secret Garden”, a body is discovered in the garden. No one knows how it got into the garden because it is surrounded by a high wall, a stranger never came into the house to get into the garden, and the garden has no gate on the outside. Still, Father Brown is able to explain what happened in a logical way. Similarly, in The Eye of Apollo, a woman is murdered despite being completely alone at the time. Because there was no one else near her at the time, it is assumed that her death is the result of a suicide. Yet again, Father Brown is able to explain the carefully planned murder and make the solution seem totally rational. Every story begins with a crime that seems unsolvable, but Father Brown is always able to crack every impossible case.

More information about the stories

The Innocence of Father Brown contains twelve stories written between July of 1910 and June of 1911. They were published separately in The Story-Teller and The Saturday Evening Post. The first was “The Blue Cross”, first published as “Valentin Follows a Curious Trail”. The second, “The Secret Garden”, was published in October of 2010, while the third, “The Queer Feet”, was published one month later.  The fourth is “The Flying Stars”, which was followed by “The Invisible Man”. “The Honour of Israel Gow” was original published under the title “The Strange Justice”. Next are “The Wrong Shape”, “The Sins of Prince Saradine”, “The Hammer of God”, and “The Eye of Apollo”. The final two are “The Sign of the Broken Sword” and “The Three Tools of Death”, which was published on June twenty fourth in 1911. 

Father Brown’s investigative style is more intuitive than deductive. When he attempts to solve a crime, he puts himself in the criminal’s shoes. He plans the murders out for himself, exactly how he would execute them to understand the criminal’s state of mind. Then, when he can truly understand how they felt in that moment in time, he knows who did it. Father Brown’s ability to understand evil was greatly influenced by his experience as a confessor and priest. Men come to him to confess their darkest sins, so he has a unique insight into what makes an evil mind tick. 

The ending of each story is usually a completely rational explanation of who did it, why, and how Father Brown was able to figure it out. He is a pious but substantially educated clergyman who is the manifestation of the Catholic Church’s moral influence on G.K. Chesterton. Father Brown is always humble, usually quiet, and when he does choose to speak, it is almost always something insightful.

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