37 thoughts on “The Complete Father Brown Stories – G.K. Chesterton


    “The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen. A few clouds in heaven do come together into the staring shape of one human eye. A tree does stand up in the landscape of a doubtful journey in the exact and elaborate shape of a note of interrogation. I have seen both these things myself within the last few days. Nelson does die in the instant of victory; and a man named Williams does quite accidentally murder a man named Williamson; it sounds like a sort of infanticide. In short, there is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning on the prosaic may perpetually miss. As it has been well expressed in the paradox of Poe, wisdom should reckon on the unforeseen.”

    A famous French detective and his sought criminal both bow to the priest when the apparent absurdisms become meaningful. The criminal is the creative artist, the detective the critic. But what of the man between, more creative than both?
    Salt is sugar, tangerines nuts, and broken windows and a smashed bowl of soup. All started in Harwich, near here.
    I am the critic detective of this book, and the book leads the way for me to plod behind, I guess.


    “It was an old house, with high walls and tall poplars almost overhanging the Seine; but the oddity and perhaps the police value of its architecture was this: that there was no ultimate exit at all except through this front door, which was guarded by Ivan and the armoury. The garden was large and elaborate, and there were many exits from the house into the garden. But there was no exit from the garden into the world outside; all round it ran a tall, smooth, unscalable wall with special spikes at the top; no bad garden, perhaps, for a man to reflect in whom some hundred criminals had sworn to kill.”

    An absolutely brilliant whodunnit or Murder Dinner with various guests in such an ambiance, with that French Detective from the previous story, plus Father Brown again still assuming full charge even though he can only see HALF.

    Various permutations of beheadings. And a wonderful denouement.


    Why haven’t I read these stories before?
    Well, I wouldn’t have done if they hadn’t been recommended to me by someone – but whodunnit, that recommendation?
    That other party said to me yesterday as a PM on Facebook:
    “Des – have you read any Father Brown? I have just discovered him and have been completely blown over. They might be some of the most beautiful and strangest things I have ever encountered. They’re free on Kindle, too. I have read nothing like them.”

    ME: Is that GK Chesterton? i don’t think I have read any but perhaps I will now!
    smile emoticon
    HIM: Yes, it is. They are the most rule breaking things. I think they’re surrealism.

  3. I am again so thrilled that you’ve chosen to read something i recommended. These stories are new to me, and indeed as you read them they become MORE new – the rules of the previous one go right out of the window. It’s no surprise they haven’t been filmed – they elude you, they defy pigeonhole.


    This is so utterly perfectly delightful as a whoabsurdit, a whodeservedit, a whatfor, a whynot, and a pleasegivememoreofit.
    A story that for the first time in my experience truly utilises what I have long called ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’, where FB (is it a coincidence many people these days use FB to denote Facebook) solves another ‘closed system’ (a sort of Masonic fishdish gathering with strict rules and standards of dress and behaviour in a strictly suitable hotel venue with a correct known number of waiters) and he solves, too, where there is a crime, the fish silver stolen, all by manner and means of footsteps, leaning against walls, and by creatively surreptitious garb. A work of genius. Where have you been all my life? Another crime as art form, but an even greater art in solving.
    I do remember reading ‘The Man Who Was Thursday’ by GKC in my youth and loving it, so why haven’t I gone back to GKC since then? Perhaps my feet couldn’t stop playing footsie with lesser authors instead.

    Some choice quotes from this story:

    “You did not have to be anything in order to be one of the Twelve Fishers; unless you were already a certain sort of person, you never even heard of them.”

    “The story which Father Brown was writing down was very likely a much better story than this one, only it will never be known. I can merely state that it was very nearly as long, and that the last two or three paragraphs of it were the least exciting and absorbing.”

    “But these footsteps were so odd that one could not decide to call them regular or irregular. Father Brown followed them with his finger on the edge of the table, like a man trying to learn a tune on the piano.”

    “The sacred fish course consisted (to the eyes of the vulgar) in a sort of monstrous pudding, about the size and shape of a wedding cake, in which some considerable number of interesting fishes had finally lost the shapes which God had given to them. The Twelve True Fishermen took up their celebrated fish knives and fish forks, and approached it as gravely as if every inch of the pudding cost as much as the silver fork it was eaten with. So it did, for all I know. This course was dealt with in eager and devouring silence; and it was only when his plate was nearly empty that the young duke made the ritual remark: “They can’t do this anywhere but here.””


    “As an artist I had always attempted to provide crimes suitable to the special season or landscapes in which I found myself,…”

    A pantomime in a country house at Christmas and FB talking into a tree to appeal to the better nature of its denizen to drop the stolen swag that he had got away with by a theatrical mix up with the props near a pole-axed policeman …

    “Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil.”


    “It is he who has half driven me mad. Indeed, I think he has driven me mad; for I have felt him where he could not have been, and I have heard his voice when he could not have spoken.”

    This is amazing stuff, modernistic as well as old-fashioned, as I think Tony has said already on this thread.
    A modern theatre of absurdity and deadly serious machinations of two men wooing the same woman, mechanical devices like robots, prestidigitation, invisible postmen that are not invisible, clearing shop windows of their contents – I even suspected at one stage that the main protagonist Angus was in fact one of the characters he was seeking. Freakishness and squinting. FB and Fb even join forces to solve the conundrum of an invisible murderer and an invisible murdered body.


    ““That is curious, too,” he said. “Twenty-five candles, and not a trace of a candlestick.””

    “I only suggested that because you said one could not plausibly connect snuff with clockwork or candles with bright stones. Ten false philosophies will fit the universe; ten false theories will fit Glengyle Castle. But we want the real explanation of the castle and the universe.”

    “It’s like the dream of an atheist. Pine-trees and more pine-trees and millions more pine-trees…”

    A story that – with many inexplicable objects or leitmotifs – is its own real-time review!
    FB shows Fb how to gather the synchronised shards of random fiction and truth from the gestalt of things without their own things. All the contained without their containers. Payment potentially with its change given with greater ultimate value than the payment itself. Sleep as a demonstration of faith. And the honesty of a manservant as meticulous and slavish as a belief in nonsense as the way towards sense. Dental artefacts, notwithstanding.
    There is something about the humour in these stories, a comfortable absurdity edged with sublime horror, an edge which the reader finds hard to keep this side of, knowing, though, that if he did topple over it, all its humour as well as its sense of necessary horror would be paid out, and no change given.


    “…tales of tropical heavens of burning gold or blood-red copper; of eastern heroes who rode with twelve-turbaned mitres upon elephants painted purple or peacock green; of gigantic jewels that a hundred negroes could not carry,…”

    “It’s the wrong shape in the abstract. Don’t you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad deliberately mean and bad.”

    ‘I want nothing’ but to want something, and that is to fathom this story where the ultimate motive is to express one’s madness through the wrong shape. It has incorrectly political or wrongly shaped references to racial matters, but in those days and in that milieu they were of the right shape for those saying them. All very strange. Another closed system, that FB, with Fb in tow, penetrate by two forms of miracle, one marvellous the other mysterious.
    Reminds me of my own story ‘Perforated Edges‘, where it is proposed that there is no such thing, because by becoming edges they are now unperforated.


    FB and Fb visit an area that reminded me of Dunsany with this exquisite paragraph:

    “They had moored their boat one night under a bank veiled in high grasses and short pollarded trees. Sleep, after heavy sculling, had come to them early, and by a corresponding accident they awoke before it was light. To speak more strictly, they awoke before it was daylight; for a large lemon moon was only just setting in the forest of high grass above their heads, and the sky was of a vivid violet-blue, nocturnal but bright. Both men had simultaneously a reminiscence of childhood, of the elfin and adventurous time when tall weeds close over us like woods. Standing up thus against the large low moon, the daisies really seemed to be giant daisies, the dandelions to be giant dandelions. Somehow it reminded them of the dado of a nursery wall-paper. The drop of the river-bed sufficed to sink them under the roots of all shrubs and flowers and make them gaze upwards at the grass. “By Jove!” said Flambeau, “it’s like being in fairyland.”

    And this…

    “Pretty and unique as it was, the place had about it a curious luminous sadness. Hours passed in it like days. The long, well-windowed rooms were full of daylight, but it seemed a dead daylight.”

    In contrast, there ensues a rumbustious duel after more talk to match that in a previous story of a money-sponger, one of two brothers. And a pallid glimpse of a servant called Paul. The Saradine brothers to match the Paravine brothers that I reviewed yesterday HERE with pallid figures that appear and vanish in that same kindred book I am concurrently reviewing!
    Here in the GKC there is the prestidigitation of mirrors and the conceit of it being better to have two enemies than one.
    With a nice denouement with the homely truth talk of FB and Fb.


    “He went up to a pew in the gallery, which brought him under a coloured window which he loved and always quieted his spirit; a blue window with an angel carrying lilies. There he began to think less about the half-wit, with his livid face and mouth like a fish. He began to think less of his evil brother, pacing like a lean lion in his horrible hunger. He sank deeper and deeper into those cold and sweet colours of silver blossoms and sapphire sky.”

    One brother a pious man through more Gothicism than God. The other brother the taunter of nitwits.
    A knotty morality tale where FB elicits a confession not through threat of God’s punishment but through his own leniency as an ad hoc confessional of gravitas.
    Much delightful tussling, too, about the nature of murder by use of hammer, with various permutations of intention in picking a small hammer or a heavy one whether be it a smithy or a woman, and of God’s thunderbolt from on high.
    A light touch of a tale with a heavy punch for each nitwit of a reader.

  11. imageTHE EYE OF APOLLO

    “It is well known to all students of the higher truths that certain adepts and illuminati have in history attained the power of levitation…”

    It is amazing to me that I should read this today after reading a similarly contexted levitation theme in Salman Rushdie’s new novel that I am concurrently reviewing HERE.
    Directly I started this story, I thought of the Illuminati with a capital I, then GKC later comes forward with this more general word above with a small i. I and eye.
    This story tells of the Priest of Apollo, shockingly confident, staring the sun in the eye without flinching, this theosophical Priest living in a flat above Fb (Flambeau) who also seems to symbolise such stellar confidence, starting this book as a criminal and now almost a Facebook friend of FB (Father Brown), the first Fb fiery, the second FB giving considered solutions – as a different Priest, as a laidback Sherlock Holmes – to the most mysterious mild or murky murders.
    Living in a flat below Fb is a feisty feminist woman who also stares into the sun as part of her worship of the Priest of Apollo, and I am sure, from this, that GKC didn’t like feminists. Notwithstanding that, this is a mighty clever story and also echoes the variable gravity factor of things falling as in the previous story, God’s thunderbolt, too.


    “Flambeau felt truth all round him as an atmosphere, but not as an idea.”

    “Anyhow, there is this about such evil, that it opens door after door in hell, and always into smaller and smaller chambers.”

    The most difficult so far of the stories, but probably the most rewarding as a rite of passage into a metaphorical Dantean Hell, FB (Virgil) leading Fb (Dante), real as well as metaphorical, with a mighty opening passage of sublime forest where the journey into truth or lie begins, by solving a historic crime through the construing and parsing of FB’s dialogue with Fb, about a war hero, whose monuments abound, monuments that show him with a broken sword, but he is really the villain who left the broken part of his sword in the man he killed rather than bravely fighting his enemies with the broken sword, all ending with FB’s allowing the man’s heroism to stand, maintaining the illusion for the masses so that they can continue their hero worship, because it hurts nothing thus to allow it to continue.
    Hurts nothing, except Truth, I ask?

    “Where does a wise man hide a pebble?”
    And the tall man answered in a low voice: “On the beach.”
    The small man nodded, and after a short silence said: “Where does a wise man hide a leaf?”
    And the other answered: “In the forest.”
    There was another stillness, and then the tall man resumed: “Do you mean that when a wise man has to hide a real diamond he has been known to hide it among sham ones?”

    This story has a Spartacus thread, too.
    Where do you hide the word of truth? Among the lies of fiction.
    Broke his word as well as his sword.

    A dead monument to once ancient hope.


    “Cheerfulness without humour is a very trying thing.”

    A tale of a house with a train track passing by, and the exponential expectations of who did the murder – and with which tool – being neutralised by the circumstances of the actual event leads to another triumphant deduction by FB.
    A classic study of cheerfulness and its poignant undercurrents.

    I can’t help but quote below a whole paragraph (with no spoilers), as it is a gem of literature, I feel…

    “The rooms were very high and very cold; the decoration mean and provincial; the draughty corridors were lit by electricity that was bleaker than moonlight. And though the old man’s scarlet face and silver beard had blazed like a bonfire in each room or passage in turn, it did not leave any warmth behind it. Doubtless this spectral discomfort in the place was partly due to the very vitality and exuberance of its owner; he needed no stoves or lamps, he would say, but carried his own warmth with him. But when Merton recalled the other inmates, he was compelled to confess that they also were as shadows of their lord. The moody man-servant, with his monstrous black gloves, was almost a nightmare; Royce, the secretary, was solid enough, a big bull of a man, in tweeds, with a short beard; but the straw-coloured beard was startlingly salted with grey like the tweeds, and the broad forehead was barred with premature wrinkles. He was good-natured enough also, but it was a sad sort of good-nature, almost a heart-broken sort he had the general air of being some sort of failure in life. As for Armstrong’s daughter, it was almost incredible that she was his daughter; she was so pallid in colour and sensitive in outline. She was graceful, but there was a quiver in the very shape of her that was like the lines of an aspen. Merton had sometimes wondered if she had learnt to quail at the crash of the passing trains.”




    “It is not remarkable that such people, with the sea moaning behind them and the Church (excuse me again) droning in front of them, should put fantastic features into what are probably plain events.”

    A hilarious tale of romance and race. And why Mr Glass missed a glass. Anything more would be a spoiler or a right old Scarborough of an Orion Hood. And a large hat.


    “One is never thinking of the real sorrow,” said the strange priest. “One can only be kind when it comes.”

    This is a swashbuckling tale in Ann RADCLIFFEAN damsel-in-distress Italy, with brigands, no gothicism, but FUTURISM and a masque with a coach’s ‘dying fall’ into uncraggy softness to hide who is who and what their motives, embezzlement and highwayman robbery. A bit of a magic show I guess like the denouement of the previous story.
    Father Brown always appears from nowhere for the ride, into a story like a film extra, to become eventually the cool plumber of its previously unfathomed moments, at first a strange priest, later its main standard cog. A slightly surreal puppet show, each story, transfigured into a potentially staged or televisual or cinematic exchange on the page. Larger than life, smaller than fantastical giants. Plots to kill for.


    “I mean a man telling lies on chance would have told some of the truth,” said his friend firmly. “Suppose someone sent you to find a house with a green door and a blue blind, with a front garden but no back garden, with a dog but no cat, and where they drank coffee but not tea. You would say if you found no such house that it was all made up. But I say no. I say if you found a house where the door was blue and the blind green, where there was a back garden and no front garden, where cats were common and dogs instantly shot, where tea was drunk in quarts and coffee forbidden then you would know you had found the house. The man must have known that particular house to be so accurately inaccurate.”

    A tale of espionage, treachery, noiseless explosive, opposites that could never meet, whitebait, Jews and Freemasons, and the Dreyfus Case… The best conundrum is always the worst conundrum, I guess, stories, too.


    “The door was opened to them by an aged servant or “dresser”, whose broken-down face and figure and black shabby coat and trousers contrasted queerly with the glittering interior of the great actress’s dressing-room.”

    This is an amazing coincidence. I have just watched the famous play on TV this past weekend with Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins, called THE DRESSER.
    This story, meanwhile, is of mirrors and machinations in a passage between private stage-doors, with blind spots and lights at the each end of this tunnel. For just one moment, I guess, Father Brown saw himself as the prime suspect of the murder of the actress!

    “The mind of the little priest was always a rabbit-warren of wild thoughts that jumped too quickly for him to catch them.”


    “Blood flows, fast or slow, in dead folk or living, for so many more million reasons than we can ever know. Blood will have to flow very funnily; blood will have to flow up the Matterhorn, before I will take it as a sign that I am to shed it.”

    “There’s a disadvantage in a stick pointing straight,” answered the other. “What is it? Why, the other end of the stick always points the opposite way. It depends whether you get hold of the stick by the right end. I saw the thing done once and I’ve never believed in it since.”

    “You always forget,” observed his companion, “that the reliable machine always has to be worked by an unreliable machine.”

    Father Brown tells Flambeau of the time he listened to the story from a detective how he, that detective, solved certain things through certain machinations about a convict and how FB himself out-solved HIM, that detective. Another tale of exclusions and wholes – and posh dinner parties in fancy dress…
    All sins are not put in the same bag.


    “The man or monster I’d sent away was standing quite still in the middle of the garden. Oh, we’ve all read a lot about pale-faced phantoms in the dark; but this was more dreadful than anything of that kind could ever be. Because, though he cast a long evening shadow, he still stood in warm sunlight. And because his face was not pale, but had that waxen bloom still upon it that belongs to a barber’s dummy. He stood quite still, with his face towards me; and I can’t tell you how horrid he looked among the tulips and all those tall, gaudy, almost hothouse-looking flowers.”

    An amazing story of a Roman coin, a man with a twisted nose, confusing a thumb with snail, a striking terrace of tomb-like houses with a slit between for a cafe, the story told by the woman about this coin and a seemingly crazy man walking into the sea – and the man she loved who looked like the head on the coin, Father Brown’s deductions about convolutions of blackmail —
    Well, all of that is engagingly standard Father Brown fare, slightly revelatory absurdist machinations that have charmed me since starting these works, charmed me with their approximation to a new truth that only fiction can supply.
    BUT this one, if one disregards the ending, is a perfect masterpiece of Weird literature combining Arthur Machen’s THE THREE IMPOSTORS with the disarming strangenesses of Robert Aickman fiction.


    “…and the story goes that a man-servant listening at the keyhole heard the truth in a talk between the King and Carr; and the bodily ear with which he heard grew large and monstrous as by magic, so awful was the secret.”

    “I know that journalism largely consists in saying “Lord Jones Dead” to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.”

    A tale of Eyres and Ears, one ear that is noble but ugly, another ear ordinary, all mixed with the interface of Journalism and optimum story- and headline-making, plus the dubious lineage of Dukes and peers, and why a wig was purple not like real hair.
    To read FB stories you need a brain that travels around the inner skull like a möbius strip, together with a good ear for the nonsensical nuances of literature.
    FB For Fibonacci?


    “All these trivialities Brown heard and saw; but heard them as a tired man hears a tune in the railway wheels, or saw them as a sick man sees the pattern of his wall-paper.”

    We learn more of the rounded, if fallible, character of Father Brown, as he suffers sea-sickness, and as the trend or audit trail of these stories takes an even stranger turn, at first the cruise along the Cornish coast to visit the Admiral up a River Mouth reminding me of Blackwood’s The Willows or Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Three Miles Up, with its contraptive wooden tower that seems ever to be on the edge of catching fire, later becoming decidedly a lucid dream as we see The Admiral forcing new front doors through his rustic wooded fence, using an extra long water hose, telling the tale of the curse of his family, while, along with FB, we grapple scepticism against a faith in fantasy, and the negroes and yellow faced servants…
    It all makes a crazy sort of sense that allows FB to transcend his sickness as well as our self-induced dream of reading a story quite like this one! Am I the first person to have read it properly? Nobody ever quite wrote like this, before or after GKC. I shall never forget the first sight of that contraptive wooden tower as we sailed towards it. Or its raison d’etre.

    “Almost as he spoke, the butler, a lean man in black, with very black hair and a very long, yellow face, appeared in the doorway and told him that dinner was served.”


    “It was one of those chilly and empty afternoons in early winter, when the daylight is silver rather than gold and pewter rather than silver. If it was dreary in a hundred bleak offices and yawning drawing-rooms, it was drearier still along the edges of the flat Essex coast, where the monotony was the more inhuman for being broken at very long intervals by a lamp-post that looked less civilized than a tree, or a tree that looked more ugly than a lamp-post..”

    I live in the sort of Essex coast depicted In this story, and I USED to live near the Epsom Grandstand over 20 years ago, that is related here to the Bandstand in Essex. This is probably the strangest and most racist story so far, so racist it would get Chesterton’s head banished as a bust for a literary award!
    It also features a prize fight and a murderous negro who hides in plain sight by blacking his face. Or am I as confused as Father Brown is not?

    This paragraph is worth quoting in full…

    “But he was a very different figure from the confused mass of white and black that had appeared for an instant in the doorway. He was buttoned and buckled up to his bursting eyeballs in the most brilliant fashion. A tall black hat was tilted on his broad black head a hat of the sort that the French wit has compared to eight mirrors. But somehow the black man was like the black hat. He also was black, and yet his glossy skin flung back the light at eight angles or more. It is needless to say that he wore white spats and a white slip inside his waistcoat. The red flower stood up in his buttonhole aggressively, as if it had suddenly grown there. And in the way he carried his cane in one hand and his cigar in the other there was a certain attitude an attitude we must always remember when we talk of racial prejudices: something innocent and insolent the cake walk.”

  23. The Strange Crime of John Boulnois

    “For while the journalism of the States permits a pantomimic vulgarity long past anything English, it also shows a real excitement about the most earnest mental problems, of which English papers are innocent, or rather incapable.”

    A tale that is transcended by Father Brown, as ever, flaying back the jealousies and prejudices of intellect, class and (if American is a race) race. Catastrophism versus the home comforts of status quo. The imputed retributions filtered through a private performance of Romeo and Juliet. And appearances only being half the story.
    And this brilliant passage…
    “More pines, more pathway slid past him, and then he stood rooted as by a blast of magic. It is vain to say that he felt as if he had got into a dream; but this time he felt quite certain that he had got into a book. For we human beings are used to inappropriate things; we are accustomed to the clatter of the incongruous; it is a tune to which we can go to sleep. If one appropriate thing happens, it wakes us up like the pang of a perfect chord. Something happened such as would have happened in such a place in a forgotten tale.”


    “He was defeated in several battles by the celebrated Arnhold brothers the three guerrilla patriots to whom Swinburne wrote a poem, you remember:
    Wolves with the hair of the ermine,
    Crows that are crowned and kings
    These things be many as vermin,
    Yet Three shall abide these things.”

    “He lived almost entirely in a little room that was in the very centre of the enormous labyrinth of all the other rooms, and even in this he erected another sort of central cabin or cupboard, lined with steel, like a safe or a battleship. Some say that under the floor of this again was a secret hole in the earth, no more than large enough to hold him, so that, in his anxiety to avoid the grave, he was willing to go into a place pretty much like it.”

    “Father Brown laughed. “I am only on my holiday,” he said. “I haven’t got any theories. Only this place reminds me of fairy stories, and, if you like, I’ll tell you a story.””

    “Perhaps his reason had been suddenly unseated by the unnatural captivity he carried with him, but in that wood he felt something unfathomably German the fairy tale. He knew with half his mind that he was drawing near to the castle of an ogre he had forgotten that he was the ogre.”

    “– I wonder if a man is less a traitor when he is twice a traitor?”

    Those quotes give you at least a clue as to this German fairy tale, its disarming impenetrability taken into the outside fields where we readers rush away having snatched at flowers rather than picking them carefully to show what we were doing rather than reading this latest FB (Father Brown) and FB (Flambeau) story, half told by one and then the other. Each the traitor of the other.
    The story is its own oubliette within another oubliette within another oubliette called Chesterton?

    The end of another subsection of these stories.

  25. Pingback: “I cannot think there is anything so heart-breaking in hell.” | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

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