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Tuesday, 1 July 2014

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

Coincidentally, I reviewed the first collection of Father Brown stories in June 2013 - obviously I like reading Chesterton's short mysteries in the summer! The thing I enjoyed most about this collection was the eclecticism: Father Brown flits around all over the place, sometimes with his companion Flambeau and sometimes alone. It means that no one story is similar to the one preceding it, something which I greatly appreciated.

The first story is 'The Absence of Mr Glass' which ridicules a doctor's deductions and is quite hilarious. It's brilliant in its simplicity, as is the second story, 'The Paradise of Thieves', which, despite being fairly confident about what was going on, entertained me nonetheless. The fourth story in the collection, 'The Man in the Passage' is both ingenious and a little heartbreaking. It tells of an actress with several suitors in her dressing room and who is mysteriously struck down by a suspect who is described differently by every witness. Father Brown's cross-examination here in this story is downright wonderful.

Story number seven, 'The Purple Wig', is enjoyable for its variation in narrative style as well as the substance of the mystery while 'The Perishing of the Pendragons' is notable for its description of the environment as well as the mystery. Similarly, in the ninth story, 'The God of the Gongs', the desolate descriptions of a seaside town out of season are very evocative.

All of the stories in this collection have something to recommend them but my favourites are probably the last two, 'The Strange Crime of John Boulnois' and 'The Fairy Tale of Father Brown'. The former's characterisation is wonderful and, again, it toys with narrative style at the beginning. It tells of a philosopher accused of murdering his love rival but this philosopher is far too disinterested to lift a finger - he just wants to be left alone with his book. 'The Fairy Tale of Father Brown' is an exploration of a past event by Father Brown and Flambeau. I always love these two together and the tale of a prince who was shot when guns were banned from his kingdom is a wonderful little teaser to conclude on.

I suppose that by this point I'm more adept at spotting where Chesterton is going with his mysteries. However, much to my delight, he still manages to surprise me on occasion and, regardless, his stories are both evocative and clever. However, I do think I should put off reading the next collection for a few months - delay the pleasure!

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