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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Book Review: The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

This first collection of Father Brown stories initially caught my eye after I watched the BBC series involving the character. Although I enjoyed it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that these stories followed an altogether different path. Each of them cover one rather compact mystery and are both interesting and evocative. We might not learn too much about Father Brown during them but his sense and talent for unravelling a mystery shine through, making him one of the best detectives I've come across, and certainly my favourite in short fiction.

This collection contains twelve short stories. The first, 'The Blue Cross', is probably the best known, although this focuses more on the detective Valentin than Father Brown himself. It actually works as an ideal introduction to the character and sets up what's to come perfectly. Valentin himself only appears in one more story but the criminal of 'The Blue Cross', Flambeau, reappears time and again, first as Brown's nemesis and then as his friend. This friendship is perhaps the one constant through the latter stories and works extremely well.

Out of these twelve stories a few lingered with me long after I had turned the page. 'The Secret Garden' is the second story featuring Valentin and comes to a dark and surprising - to me, anyway - conclusion. I also appreciated 'The Invisible Man', a story of warring lovers, because of the simplicity of the conclusion. In fact, most of these stories ended with me marvelling at the ingenuity of the author, wrapping up the obvious in the bizarre. It was a pleasure to merely read and not second-guess the outcome.

Atmospherically, my favourite story has to be 'The Sins of Prince Saradine' which begins with Brown and Flambeau on a small boat in the middle of nowhere. The vivid descriptions that haunt the beginning of this story outweigh what is still a very intelligent plot and make this the story that lingers in my mind.

I also enjoyed the difference of 'The Sign of the Broken Sword' which progressed in a manner not usual for this collection, with Father Brown piecing together the distant past instead of the present. The final story in the collection, 'The Three Tools of Death', was a fitting conclusion and one that made me eager to read the subsequent collections of Father Brown stories.

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