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