Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

Father Brown Mystery Stories: Meet a New Type of Detective

The Innocence of Father Brown - Father Brown Mystery Stories - Tea Tonic and Toxin Podcast
The Innocence of Father Brown

Long before he started writing his own detective stories, Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton was already a fan of the genre. He had been reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes since he was a boy and even tried his hand at writing mysteries of his own with a few stories that were published in the British magazine The Idler in 1904. He was 30 at the time. It wasn’t until six years later that the first installment of Father Brown mystery stories was published.

My own introduction to this character was through the Father Brown television series that first began airing on BBC One in January 2013. (The show was renewed for a 10th season that started in January 2023.)

The Innocence of Father Brown

Published in 1911, the first volume of Father Brown mystery stories – The Innocence of Father Brown – contains 12 stories, most of which were written in 1910. The first story in the book is “The Blue Cross,” introducing not only the character of Father Brown but also the man who starts out as an archenemy of the priest – Hercule Flambeau, a master criminal masquerading as a priest. Several stories later, Flambeau changes his ways, becoming a detective and even serving as a sidekick to Father Brown in solving crimes.

The shrewd, mild-mannered Father Brown became a model for other fictional detectives often considered by criminals as “non-threatening.” Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, for example, was never seen as a threat due to her unassuming nature. The same goes for the main character in the TV series “Columbo” – portrayed by Peter Falk in the 1970s. (Richard Levinson and William Link, creators of the popular detective show, admitted borrowing from Chesterton’s Father Brown character in their creation of Columbo.)

In the first few stories of this book, the parish priest-turned-sleuth solves crimes only in the small parish of Cobhole in Essex. Later, though, he moves to London, and even occasionally travels outside of England to solve crimes.

How Many Father Brown Mystery Stories Are There?

Chesterton wrote a total of 53 stories about Father Brown, separated into five compilations, each containing 8-10 stories. Following the first one in 1911, the next four appeared in 1914, 1926, 1927, and 1935. In 1936 (the year Chesterton died), a sixth compilation was published that only contained two stories: “The Donnington Affair” and “The Mask of Midas.”

The importance of Chesterton’s Father Brown mystery stories goes beyond sheer entertainment. Historians specializing in the mystery genre say that Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle popularized it, and G.K. Chesterton defined it. He’s considered to be the first prominent author to treat the detective story as a “serious” form of literature.

Before he started writing his mysteries about Father Brown, Chesterton had already realized that readers enjoy being fooled, but only if it’s done fairly. Mystery writers soon started adopting Chesterton’s methods in their own writing.

Don’t Miss Out on New Podcast Episodes!

The Innocence of Father Brown is just one of the books Tea, Tonic & Toxin will be featuring on our podcast (and in our book club) in 2023. Each episode will include discussion questions, but we also want to hear from you – our subscribers! We love hearing your suggestions and ideas on the books we feature.

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