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G.K. Chesterton: Roots Of Classic “Clerical” Detective Stories Father Brown stories

Updated on November 5, 2015

GK Chesterton


The Detective

I was a fan of Alec Guinness when his comedy films were being shown and one off these was “The Detective” based on G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. This was my introduction to both G. K. Chesterton and his famous detective.

Chesterton wrote a total of 52 stories about Father Brown who was based on the priest who had aided the writer in his own conversion to Catholicism. Interestingly playing the part of Father Brown may have been instrumental in leading Alec Guinness to the Catholic faith

The priest, Father John O’Connor (1870-1952) was parish priest in Bradford wrote about it in 1937 in a book Father Brown on G.K. Chestert on.

The essence of Father Brown is that he is sort of the anti-detective. He is not hard boiled rather he appears soft although he is tough inside, he is not scientific like Sherlock Holmes he is intuitive, he is not cynical, he relies on faith he is not tall or handsome, he is short and sort of homely, He is not working for law and order but for spiritual order.

Yet, this unlikely detective started a trend in detective fiction that is current today. And in one sense, at least, he may have been ahead of his time. He says that he plans the crime and in modern language we could say he internalized them in his imagination. This he did to the point of total identification with the criminal. The first thing that struck me when I read that was “This is like method acting” Like James Dean who claimed to become the character he was playing.

For Chesterton Father Brown was a vehicle for presenting his own philosophical view.

Father Brown is strictly reasoning more concerned with spiritual truths and philosophical ones more than scientific detail. Oddly Chesterton read the Sherlock Holmes stories and admired them, yet his Father Brown is so opposite of Holmes.

G.K. Chesterton


What is a clerical detective?

By clerical detective I would include priests, ministers, Rabbi and other significant religious figures who acts as protagonists in mystery stories. A few interesting series are the ones about

· Sister Fidelma written by Peter Tremayne which is a historical series dating back to the first millennium.

· Reverend Randolph by Charles Merrill Smith. This series is about a somewhat generic protestant minister in an urban setting.

· Rabbi Small by Harry Kemelman. This series reveals a lot about Jewish life and beliefs.

· Father Koesler by William X. Kienzle. Portrays the Catholic Church after Vatican II and its problems. The author was a former priest.

· Sister Joan by Veronica Black. I found this to be an enjoyable series.

I hope some of you come to share my interest in this type of mystery. The ones listed are just a sampling. Browsing you library or the internet you will come up with many more.

Are you a clerical detective reader

Do you read and like clerical detective stories?

See results


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for commenting.

    • Barbara_tenBroek profile image

      Barbara_tenBroek 7 years ago from Dayton, Ohio

      Great informative hub. Thank you.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I'm glad I've provided some new knowledge. I hope you try and enjoy some of them.Thanks for commenings

    • satomko profile image

      Seth Tomko 7 years ago from Macon, GA

      I learned a lot with this hub. I had no idea this subgenre had so many different and talented authors working in it.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading and commenting. The Father Brown stories are among the classic detective stories. However, Chesterton is better known for his religious and social commentary. I hope you enjoy them.

    • Gawth profile image

      Ron Gawthorp 7 years ago from Millboro, Virginia

      I see Google Books has a few of his short stories collectgions, I will try a few of those first. I was unaware of Mr. Chesterton. Thanks.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting. I've been especially found of this specialized type of mystery.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 7 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      Good hub, I'll give them a try. I love mysteries!!!!!!!!