How can a writer and literary critic of the magnitude of G.K. Chesterton take seriously the lowly and trivial detective story? And how can such a respected, leading intellectual figure spend so much time penning down so many detective stories – covering five volumes published during his lifetime?
For Chesterton, detective stories are not just a form of entertainment. The little priest-detective Father Brown has three strengths: he is endowed with a very sharp sense of observation; he has a very rich experience of human nature, based on years and years of listening to the confessions of sinners (and everybody is a sinner, in our fallen world); and he is humble, always overcoming the proud with his modesty, as the proud tend to look down at him and underestimate him. He thus manages to read beyond appearances and to intuit the true character of human beings and human deeds – which means that he intuits and discovers, in fact, the moral essence of things.
For Chesterton, detective stories are thus a form of art that conveys a strong moral message; at a more superficial level, they are a careful representation of the social life, but also of the inner life of the individual; on a deeper level, they are a modern form of fairy tale or ballad about knights or heroes defending law and order against the nihilistic forces of crime and chaos; and, last but not least, they are philosophical and theological essays.
The volume The Complete Father Brown Stories from Penguin Classics includes the volumes The Innocence of Father Brown (1911); The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914); The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926); The Secret of Father Brown (1927), The Scandal of Father Brown (1935), and the stories The Donnington Affair (1914), The Vampire of the Village (1936), and The Mask of Midas (1936).
- Author: Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936)
- Original language: English
- Genre: Detective stories
- Publication year: 1911-1936
- Public: Adults, teenagers