The Innocence of Father Brown: A Collection of Father Brown Stories (Episode Two)
The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) is G. K. Chesterton’s first collection of Father Brown stories featuring a nondescript Catholic priest who solves crimes using intuition and by tapping into spiritual and philosophic truths rather than scientific details. These stories are clever and thoughtful and beautifully written.
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Father Brown Stories
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea, Tonic, and Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison,
Carolyn Daughters 0:36
and I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a tea, or a gin and tonic,
Sarah Harrison 0:42
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:45
And join us on the journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:56
Everybody, I’m so excited about our book today, which is a continuation of The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton. It’s super awesome. And we have a super awesome sponsor, as well. It’s my favorite sponsor, Carolyn Daughters. She runs a brand building and communications consultancy. She leads brand therapy workshops, teaches marketing courses for startups and small businesses, and teaches persuasive writing courses. Carolyn and her small team empower startups, small businesses, enterprises, and government agencies to win hearts, minds deals and dollars. You can learn more at carolyndaughters.com. It’s a great website. Go there, listeners.
Carolyn Daughters 1:57
We have a special listener today. Shannon Hulsey Smith from Dallas, Texas.
Sarah Harrison 2:04
It’s our first Texas winner, I think.
Carolyn Daughters 2:08
We’ve covered a lot of states.
Sarah Harrison 2:11
If you didn’t know, we’ve had listeners in 29 countries.
Carolyn Daughters 2:16
We thought it was only 13. But it was 13 on Spotify alone. It turns out on all of the different platforms we were heard by people in 29 countries last year.
If that’s you, tell us.
And on a related note, if you do tell us, there’s a good chance we’re going to board a plane and come say hello and thank you.
Sarah Harrison 2:43
We might get a road podcast going.
Carolyn Daughters 2:45
An around the world podcast. And on a related note, we will probably be staying at your house.
Sarah Harrison 2:52
Yeah, get a room ready.
Carolyn Daughters 2:56
Preferably, a nicely made up room. We like breakfast in the morning. I like eggs.
Sarah Harrison 3:02
I mean, I’m good with just free if we could do that.
Carolyn Daughters 3:12
The Innocence of Father Brown. I’m going to talk a little bit about what this book is on the off chance you listener haven’t read it yet. If you’ve not read it after the podcast, please get a copy. You can even read it for free on Gutenberg.org. And read this amazing book of Father Brown stories. It is stunning. In 1908 G. K. Chesterton wrote a well known work of Christian apologetics called orthodoxy. In the preface he says the work is an explanation not of whether the Christian faith can be believed but of how he himself personally came to believe it. Chesterton saw Christianity as the answer to natural human needs not as an arbitrary truth received from outside the bounds of human experience. Chesterton also wrote a series of mystery stories starring a Catholic priest. Father Brown is based on Father O’Connor, a priest Chesterton knew. One day Chesterton and Father O’Connor were talking to some Cambridge undergrads about philosophy. The students admired the priest’s intellect, but dismissed him as being naive about the real world. Chesterton said he almost laughed out loud because the priest knew far more about the real world than the Cambridge men. As Chesterton writes in a story called “The Blue Cross,” “A man who does next to nothing but here men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil.” Chesterton wrote about domestic murders with human motives. These Father Brown stories have an unlikely detective and a limited list of suspects. Chesterton’s writing is lovely and his mysteries include philosophical reflections and a moral. Father Brown solves crimes by getting inside the criminal mind and the criminal heart. He evaluates the human beings instead of investigating external evidence. He often seems naive, but hiding behind his plain exterior is an intellect that’s on fire. Chesterton called Edgar Allan Poe’s detective stories the best ever written. Poet and short story writer Jorge Luis Borges, in turn, called Chesterton Poe’s great disciple. Today, we’re excited to talk about The Innocence of Father Brown in our second of two podcasts. It’s our first book selection for 2023. You can find the entire list of books for 2023 on our website at teatonicandtoxin.com.
Sarah Harrison 5:38
We are also super excited to have our first guest, Deb Donner. This is our second episode covering the Father Brown stories, but she’s still our first guest. If you haven’t heard the first episode, go back and listen to it after this one. Deb is a self-described bookaholic. Reading is her escape and her inspiration. Her current favorite genre is memoir. She believes everyone has a unique life story, and she loves hearing other people’s stories. Part of her own story, which hopefully we’ll hear more about, involves how she survived being in a religious cult. Her mother joined the cult when Deb was 12 years old, and Deb escaped at age 19. She finds writing about that experience more healing than therapy. Deb also enjoys crafting, and her latest joy is slow-stitching bits of fabric together into fabric stories. I want to hear about that, too. Deb shares her crafty fun on social media @debdonner62. She shares her experience of being in a cult on social media @letstalkcults. Welcome, Deb!
Deb Donner 6:53
Thank you. It’s fun to be here. Last episode was so much fun, you guys.
Sarah Harrison 6:59
We love your take on everything. Super interesting.
Deb Donner 7:03
Thanks. I have a lot to say.
Sarah Harrison 7:05
That makes me excited. Somebody asked me, “What is your goal with guests?” And of course, there’s an obvious marketing angle to try build a bigger audience. But honestly, I really just want to add more perspectives to the conversation. This little podcast has been, I would say, a labor of love. It’s forpeople who like to talk about books. Getting more of those people in the room and sharing their unique background and what they bring to the stories is super exciting. I’m really stoked.
Carolyn Daughters 7:42
We’re glad to have you here.
Deb Donner 7:43
Thanks. I’m glad you allowed me to be here.
Carolyn Daughters 7:49
This book, The Innocence of Father Brown, is a book of short stories. And these Father Brown stories hit home with me. They really resonated, some of them more than others. They’re beautifully written. G. K. Chesterton had a phenomenal way with words. One of the things that really struck me is how Father Brown is gentle and subtle in his Christianity. We talked in our last podcast pisode about how he doesn’t hit you over the head with Christianity or the morals of his stories. It really feels organic to the story, it feels loving and kind. How did you both feel about that?
Deb Donner 8:46
I feel like [his Christianity] definitely a character in the story. It’s not the character in the story. It’s a background supporting character, so to speak. His Christianity is who he is. It’s not his hammer. That was pleasantly surprising to me. I was not expecting that. I thought perhaps Chesterton had an axe to grind or a message to deliver.
Sarah Harrison 9:19
That keeps blowing me away. When you say why you chose this book, you expected to be exhausted. Why would you choose that?
Deb Donner 9:30
Because I’m up for a challenge.
Sarah Harrison 9:34
Well, that is admirable. But I’m like expecting to like every book.
Carolyn Daughters 9:39
I’m hoping to like every book. I’m not expecting to. There are some that I liked better than others for sure. I I loved this book. In particular, there’s a couple quotes here I want to read and see what you each have to say about them. One is from “The Twelve True Fishermen,” which is one of those Father Brown stories in The Innocence of Father Brown. The quote says, “It’s unlikely that you’ll ever rise high enough in the social world to find the 12 true fishermen [this exclusive group of men] or that you will ever sink low enough amongst slums and criminals to find Father Brown.” That blew me away. Here’s similar quote: “What do you call a man who wants to embrace the chimney sweep?” Father Brown answers, “A saint.”
Sarah Harrison 10:27
I think they were searching for an answer of “communist” in the actual story, but he just quips in there “a saint.” I like his little quips that he’s always interjecting.
Carolyn Daughters 10:37
Did you feel like this was who the man was on the page? Was the narrator spot on to the degree that you as a reader are following along saying, “I get that exact same sense about this man?” Or were you feeling a disconnect? Were you pushing back on these kinds of saintly statements? Father Brown comes across as quite good and honorable and pure in most of these Father Brown stories. Did did you both feel that way, or did you put in question whether he was truly as honorable as the narrator tried to make him out to be.
Sarah Harrison 11:23
I pulled another quote from that same story, “The Twelve True Fishermen.” I keep wanting to call it “The Flying Fish.” I get several of the Father Brown stories mixed up. From “The Twelve True Fishermen”: “There is in the world a very aged rioter in demagogue who breaks into the most refined retreats with the dreadful information that all men are brothers. And wherever this leveler went on his pale horse, it was Father Brown’s trade to follow.” I just loved that. That quote just blew me away. I’m not sure I would use the word pure to describe him. We discussed last time that he’s not truly innocent just because he’s not doing evil. He deeply recognizes his capacity for evil. Unashamedly. He knows it, he integrates it, he’s whole with it, and he uses it to understand everyone else. What I saw in him was a deep humility and introspection and just almost seeing beyond the present world. What do you think, Deb?
Deb Donner 12:46
I think there’s a backstory to this guy that I would love to know. I think that he potentially could have been the biker dude. The bad boy in prison a couple of times. I think that without having the backstory given to us that we can probably form our own opinion. But I think that his take on humanity and his perspective, especially with his generosity of forgiveness. I feel there’s there’s something there to having been in those positions, perhaps. That was my takeaway. In the very first chapter, I thought, this guy’s just a pompous jerk. I mean, a saint. Who are you trying to get here? By the end of the book, because there’s several Father Brown stories, getting to know him and being emotionally invested in him — there’s something there. And unfortunately, in this book, we don’t get that maybe there’s something else that Chesterton wrote.
Carolyn Daughters 13:59
Two things strike me about that. First, you came at the Father Brown stories thinking you were going to feel one way and I think you came away feeling a different way. Second, you’re very interested in backstory. I thought it might be interesting for you to share some backstory of Deb Donner with us.
Deb Donner 14:25
Sure. Though it’s not something I’m particularly proud of, I do have a very biased opinion towards Christianity. I’m not a hateful person out to destroy it, but I just don’t want to part of it. I don’t want it in my life. And I came at this book thinking this man was going to portray Father Brown as this pompous jackass who is going to solve all these mysteries because of his religious conviction and his bestowed upon him glory from God. And I was pleasantly surprised that that was not the case. Had I come across a minister of this type, perhaps my perspective now would be a little different. But unfortunately, the man who was the religious healer in my life was horrible.
Carolyn Daughters 15:24
You were in a cult as a child. Starting at age 12. And then I believe you escaped that organization when you were 19.
Deb Donner 15:33
It’s funny because, even from my perspective at the time, I did not know I was in a cult, I would not have classified it as a cult. It was just this pastor who controlled my mother and had dominance in our lives. And the only reason he had this controlling dominance was because he was a godly man.
Sarah Harrison 16:04
Self-professed. Did your mother stay after you left?
Deb Donner 16:06
Sarah Harrison 16:07
Really? Is she still there?
Deb Donner 16:08
No. They’re defunct now. They pretty much fizzled out in 1997. But I escaped in 1981. My mother stayed until 1983. She was all in. I was never all in. I could see the duplicity. I could see the harm and the trauma that I experienced,. But at the same time, like I was saying, I had this religious and spiritual trauma. If this man claims he’s following God and he’s doing godly things, then there’s something wrong with me because I’m not enjoying it. There must be something wrong. I must be a bad person. Yeah, there was no humility, or, like, Father Brown has compassion. Letting somebody go who has committed such a heinous crime. I mean, that’s perspective, I guess, because, as a kid in a cult, my heinous crime was not liking and not taking part in what was going on around me in the cult. For the abuses in the group.
Carolyn Daughters 17:16
Which is potentially a form of spiritual abuse.
Unknown Speaker 17:19
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Sarah Harrison 17:24
It’s interesting that you say, if you’d had someone more like Father Brown and less like that guy you had, life would be really different.
Deb Donner 17:33
Life would have been totally different. Maybe I’d be writing happy stories. I’d rather be writing happy stories rather than my memoir about being in a cult? But especially as a child, like I said, I was 12 when my mother joined this church. And you’re groomed from childhood to believe that church is a safe place. These men that are in these godly positions, these pastoral positions, are good people with your best interest at heart. And for the most part they are.
Sarah Harrison 18:08
When they aren’t,man.
Deb Donner 18:09
When they aren’t, it just goes sideways
Sarah Harrison 18:11
Deb Donner 18:12
It destroys your life. That’s my story in a nutshell.
Carolyn Daughters 18:22
You bring a really distinctive perspective to these Father Brown stories. When we first started talking about these stories, you said, “I’m going to have such a strong reaction.” And then G. K. Chesterton worked magic, in some ways. He did with me, too. I have to say, of all of the books we have this year, this was not in my top half of the ones that I thought were going to blow me away. And I know for a fact in December, when I’m reflecting back on this year, this will be one of the ones that blew me away.
Sarah Harrison 19:04
So, Carolyn, tell me why you didn’t include this book as one of the most pivotal books in this period. Because you actually made the list, so it’s funny hearing you say you didn’t expect a lot from this one.
Carolyn Daughters 19:16
There are some books that we include on our lists that may be in the reading of them. we’re not blown away — “This the most amazing mystery I’ve ever read!” But we read them because we gain this understanding of the form and where it was born and where it evolved. So later, in the Golden Age, the 50s and 60s, late 20th century and in 30 or 40 years when we make it into the 21st century — joking — we understand the ways in which these books hearken back. The way they borrow, knowingly or unknowingly, from these people who experimented and put the words down for the first time. The Big Bow Mystery is a locked room mystery. And today we can say, I think I know how somebody commits a crime in a locked room. Back when Israel Zangwill wrote The Big Bow Mystery, he created this idea from whole cloth. This is so interesting that we have some of these ideas, because these authors took chances, because they put the books in print. If we can, we might try to step out of our current day and time and put ourselves in the shoes of the readers reading these books for the first time. These books blew people away. And so sometimes we feel that way as readers. Bleak House is an example. Every time I read Bleak House, I’m blown away.
Sarah Harrison 21:12
Go read it.
Carolyn Daughters 21:13
Other books I read, and I think, “now I understand things about the forum and the evolution of the genre. But maybe this is not a book I’m going to return to.”
Sarah Harrison 21:24
So what is Father Brown bringing to the conversation. Do some of these things become tropes?
Carolyn Daughters 21:29
He’s in some ways an anti-Sherlock Holmes.
Sarah Harrison 21:33
Always he’s an anti Sherlock.
Carolyn Daughters 21:37
They’re both outsiders. They’re both isolated in their own particular way.
Sarah Harrison 21:42
Father Brown is so humble.
Carolyn Daughters 21:44
Yes, Sherlock is waving his hand in the air saying, “Look at me!”
Deb Donner 21:51
He’s so pompous.
Carolyn Daughters 21:51
But they’re both outsiders, they both have this understanding of humanity that is truly their own. Father Brown doesn’t look for the cigarette ash, he’s not going to figure out how many footprints are out front and what size the footprints are. Or, hey, there’s a carriage out front and one of the horses on the carriage was missing one of his four shoes. That’s not Father Brown. Father Brown gets to the heart of the matter by getting to the heart of the man. Sherlock Holmes is of course the best known detective in the world.
Sarah Harrison 22:35
Yeah, poor Father Brown.
Carolyn Daughters 22:36
Father Brown is probably up there in a lot of people’s top three.
Sarah Harrison 22:40
Do you think so?
Carolyn Daughters 22:40
Sarah Harrison 22:41
I had never heard of him. Had you heard of him, Deb?
Deb Donner 22:42
No, I’d never heard of him.
Sarah Harrison 22:45
But I guess he has a TV show.
Carolyn Daughters 22:47
There’s a show on BritBox. I’ve seen only one episode and was dismayed because they took the plot of a story, and shook it up, and this other thing appeared on screen. I was taken aback by how different it was. I thought, what Chesterton didn’t do a good enough job? Some screenwriter in the back room had to redo the whole thing? I think he’s important to the genre. And he’s also going to be very different than most of the detectives that are going to follow.
Sarah Harrison 23:16
I thought he seemed super different than detectives I’d read about. But I love him, and I love the Father Brown stories. I’m gonna get his other books now and read them.
In each story, the moral is sometimes big and broad and sometimes subtle. But it’s always beautifully done in a way that, for me, makes me think. I’m thinking about it days later, in some cases weeks later. To me, that’s the mark of a work of art that really has succeeded in reaching the reader. If you get to page last and your thought is, I want to start back at the beginning or get other books in the series, then that author did something right. G. K. Chesterton did something right with this book.
Sarah Harrison 24:28
I feel like we keep talking about the moral, but it’s almost like it just points you to introspect more of the stuff he says. It’s deep and profound. And you’re like, wow, that’s really true. There’s another quote from that same one of the Father Brown stories called “The Queer Feet.” I thought it was perfect. If you haven’t read “The Queer Feet,” it’s about basically how Flambeau infiltrates this high society group by looking high society enough that the servants don’t recognize him and looking like a servant enough that the high society guys don’t recognize him. And so Father Brown says, “Odd, isn’t it, that a thief and a vagabond [Flambeau] should repent, when so many who are rich and secure remain hard and frivolous and without fruit for God or man.” And he just does that throughout that whole story. He doesn’t pull any punches with these rich guys at all.
Carolyn Daughters 25:32
And then I think he takes his beat up old umbrella from the corner and walks out in the rain and his shabby overcoat. That’s who he is. There’s no pretense about him. He just is what he is. He’s Father Brown, probably intentionally chosen.
Sarah Harrison 25:52
Carolyn Daughters 25:54
There’s no fireworks in the sky when this guy walks down the street. He is what he is. But there is from my perspective a great pleasure in reading about this person who just is what he is. And, Deb, the showmanship and the professing to be one thing and actually being another — that disconnect dominated a good portion of your childhood.
Deb Donner 26:24
Exactly. And I think in one of the Father Brown stories I refer to him as Vizzini.
Sarah Harrison 26:31
I love that.
Deb Donner 26:31
He’s talking about how you’re not seeing what’s going on here. Here’s what’s going on. And the people around him are like, but what are you talking about?
Carolyn Daughters 26:40
From The Princess Bride.
Deb Donner 26:42
And he’s like, but wait, there’s more. And there’s this and this, and this. And I’m following this man, and there’s no pretense. There’s no, look at me, I’m figuring this out. He’s showing these people human nature, at its base, at its very core of what’s slapping them in the face all around them. He’s just showing them what’s going on, and then he turns around and walks out of the room.
Sarah Harrison 27:11
Well, he walks out of the room to go get their confession. I want to talk about that a little bit. You brought this out here, in this part, Carolyn, but he’s never calling the police or bringing anyone to justice. He is going to go get a confession. And if they don’t confess, that’s on them. Some of them don’t. But some of them do.
Carolyn Daughters 27:35
But I think he is trying to bring them to justice, His justice is different than the legal justice.
Sarah Harrison 27:39
Yeah, he’s trying to bring them to repentance. He’s trying to reform their character, and he’s successful with Flambeau and maybe others. But not everyone. Different people in these Father Brown stories make different choices. You ask this question like, is this just, unjust, or hyper just, this spiritual repentance aspect? And I thought that was a really interesting way to think about it.
Deb Donner 28:06
It depends upon what view you have looking at the situation. Unjust, looking at it from the perspective of the people who have been wronged and the people who demand justice versus the man who wants to see somebody repent and change. In my personal history of repentance and forgiveness is you repent, you’re forgiven, and you turn and walk away, and you’re a different person. I think that’s what Father Brown wanted in these people. He didn’t want to see them locked up. He wasn’t invested in justice being served,
Sarah Harrison 28:47
Which is a really relevant conversation now. Like, what does prison get us, exactly.It might get us some things, but it doesn’t always get us the things that we wish it would.
Carolyn Daughters 28:58
It gets some dangerous people off the street,
Sarah Harrison 29:02
And potentially makes them more dangerous when they come back on the street. I pulled this quote from “The Sins of Prince Saradine” that I felt was the perspective here. Father Brown said, “I mean that we are on the wrong side of the tapestry. The things that happen here do not seem to mean anything. They mean something somewhere else, somewhere else retribution will come on the real offender. Here, it often seems to fall on the wrong person.” This perspective sort of sees through like Earth in our current, present day. It’s like, well, everyone’s going to get justice in the end. The question is, are you going to transform yourself now or not? I just thought, I’ve never heard a story like that before. But I I truly loved it.
Carolyn Daughters 30:04
Is “The Sins of Prince Saradine” your favorite of the Father Brown stories? Or do you have a favorite story?
Sarah Harrison 30:07
I have a favorite quote. I don’t have a favorite story, but I do have a favorite quote. And that was in ‘The Flying Stars.” It’s so funny. Flambeau was in several stories. In the first story, he’s caught. And then in the second story, he gives the stuff back and jumps out the window. And then in this next story, “The Flying Stars,” he actually repents. The story present it at the beginning of his repenting, but he doesn’t do it in the story. He gives the stuff back and jumps out of the tree again. But what Father Brown says, I just loved. He says to Flambeau, “You used to boast of doing nothing mean, but you are doing something mean tonight. You are leaving suspicion on an honest boy with a good deal against him already. You are separating him from the woman he loves and who loves him. But you will do meaner things than that before you die.” And he prefaces it with this idea. “This is the problem with the road you’re on. Men may keep a level of good. But no man has ever been able to keep one level of evil. The road goes down and down.” He’s painting this picture to Flambeau of like, this is your future. This is who you are now, and this is who you’re becoming, and it’s going to continue downwards. He’s painting that picture that for him. He throws the diamonds to the ground. And the next time you see him, Flambeau is a detective himself. He’s friends with Father Brown, and he tells his own story of his repentance. Again, it’s one of those things where I’m like, too true,
Carolyn Daughters 31:55
Flambeau is thinking of himself as this adventurer. These are capers, and they’re light and they’re fun. And Father Brown is saying it’s starting to not be light and fun. You’re actually getting meaner and meaner.
Sarah Harrison 32:10
You’re framing an innocent guy. And now he and the woman he loves will never be able to be together. He sees that. He does catch Flambeau before he goes down and down. And Flambeau is one of the ones who repents and transforms.
Deb Donner 32:24
He goes from stealing milk from one customer and giving it to his customers and doing these little things that I thought were pretty cheeky. Wow, that’s pretty frickin sharp. Now there’s a guy whose life is over because of what he has done. And I think it’s maybe more of a story of redemption. Maybe that’s the theme through this is redemption and moving on and doing good.
Sarah Harrison 32:55
Well, I mean, isn’t that better than going to prison and becoming an even worse human?
Deb Donner 33:01
Well, isn’t that what prison is supposed to be? To reform?
Sarah Harrison 33:05
In some instances it’s supposed to help reform, but I think maybe that it doesn’t.
Deb Donner 33:10
That’s a whole other topic.
Carolyn Daughters 33:14
That’s actually an entire podcast.
Deb Donner 33:17
There are podcasts devoted to this subject.
Carolyn Daughters 33:20
I would imagine.
Sarah Harrison 33:21
There’s so much relevance in these Father Brown stories. What should be our goal with punitive things? And what does justice look like? And there was the one we were talking about, off podcast, on toxic positivity. So I was impressed with all the topics.
Carolyn Daughters 33:49
Tell me about toxic positivity.
Sarah Harrison 33:52
I think that was one of your favorite ones wasn’t it, Deb.
Deb Donner 33:55
Toxic positivity. You see those people who walk around with a smile on their face and a lot of times it is associated with religion. “I am free!” I have friends from the cult who are now Christians and there’s this idea that “This is not the Christianity of the cult!” And they’re walking around with this happy face. I’m loved. I’m a child of God and all of these things. And it’s like yeah, but life is still shitting all around you, man. It’s still happening, and it’s okay to have this this core of stability, your rock, the solidness. But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t going to suck and they’re not going to hurt. Like in the final story of this of this book, this man is seen as this happy-go-lucky guy. He’s the social butterfly. He’s always happy. And his family is miserable. And Father Brown sees that something’s not quite right here. It’s almost like he has the sixth sense because he’s tuned into to humanity. Toxic positivity. It’s a whole huge topic right now with the people that I follow on Instagram. Realizing that you don’t have to walk around with a smile on your face, proving to the world that what you’ve got is the secret to life.
Carolyn Daughters 35:21
Inner peace and joy. Look at me! See, whatever I’m doing is working.
Sarah Harrison 35:26
Sometimes it’s Christianity, and sometimes it’s almost like mysticism, manifesting, …
Deb Donner 35:33
Sarah Harrison 35:33
And it’s like, well, whatever’s happening to me, it’s the right thing.
Deb Donner 35:40
My vegan eating … It’s like these things are the end all be all. And it’s super culty. It’s super culty thinking.
Sarah Harrison 35:50
That was “The Three Tools of Death.” I wrote down this quote from that story: “Cheerfulness without humor is a very trying thing.”
Carolyn Daughters 36:02
The man who dies was cheerful without humor.
Sarah Harrison 36:06
His was a forced cheerfulness that didn’t like make everyone’s life any better. It was just like, “See, now, I’m happy. Everything’s a joke. I’m always smiling.” And sometimes Father Brown is like, it’s a cruel religion. Why couldn’t they let him weep a little? Sometimes terrible things happen, and we don’t grieve enough.
Carolyn Daughters 36:35
It’s part of being human. We’re not happy all the time. I’ve been thinking about this recently, about the purpose of life. I don’t know that it’s to be happy.
Sarah Harrison 36:49
Yeah, I would agree that it’s not.
Carolyn Daughters 36:54
Whereas I think that’s a lot of people’s goals. Well, I just want to be happy as if happiness is something attainable, every waking hour and maybe takes us into our dream state at night, something we carry with us all the time. Life is not always happy. There’s there’s terrible news out there in the world. There’s tragic and very sad things happening in our own lives, we have ups and downs. Ultimately, I hope for myself that what I’m doing serves some greater purpose outside of myself and my four walls. If I’ve only lived to better my own self and my household, then I believe personally that I will have failed.
Sarah Harrison 37:43
There’s this almost unceasing — I wouldn’t even call it the pursuit of happiness, I would call it this drive to always be happy. It doesn’t even serve yourself. It’s messing kids up. If we’re always doing things and insisting the children are always happy
Carolyn Daughters 38:02
And entertained every second.
Sarah Harrison 38:05
Yeah, entertained, happy, even from the moment they’re a baby. They’re not allowed to cry. You’re crying. Something must be wrong. How dare you feel sad about something. You just got squeezed out of a womb you should happy. It’s a little hard.
Carolyn Daughters 38:24
If you’re on social media, a lot of it is all happy all the time. Here’s the picture of what my life is today. And tomorrow. And every day is a vacation, and every day is Disneyland, and every day is whatever you personally define as an amazing life. Those are the images we’re seeing. On some human level, we’re all striving for this amazing experience from the moment we get up to the moment we go to bed. And I think that’s a really small way to live — I want to be happy all day every day. Versus I want to experience a range of emotions, one of which is happiness and joy. And I want to do something that is bigger than myself.
Sarah Harrison 39:15
Well, there’s the researcher in me, of course, I’ve done a little looking into happiness research. And it doesn’t even work that way, folks. You can’t get happiness in that manner.
Carolyn Daughters 39:25
In what manner?
Sarah Harrison 39:26
In just running after it and gratifying your desires. That’s not how you get happiness. There’s no research that points to that. There’s piles of evidence that points to things like trials and pain and resetting your baseline. There’s a lot out there. You should definitely look into it. Was that your favorite of the Father Brown stories, Deb, or did you have others that you liked?
Deb Donner 39:55
The final story.
Sarah Harrison 40:00
“The Three Tools of Death.”
Deb Donner 40:03
Also “The Invisible Man.” That story was really interesting. And I have a quote. It’s not from the book, but it’s G. K. Chesterton’s quote. “There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”
Sarah Harrison 40:17
I love that quote.
Deb Donner 40:17
I took that with me into the book reading the book. That doesn’t put the burden of being interesting upon anybody. It puts the burden of finding interesting things on all of us. To be interested in life, to be interested in those moments of somebody’s pain, somebody’s grief, somebody’s joy, somebody’s happiness. Being interested in those moments in life, I think, are what perhaps bring happiness. I feel like we as a society gaslight ourselves into thinking we have to strive for something. We’re creating vision boards, that I really honestly don’t think work, or we’re watching The Secret, because we’re striving for something that’s going to make us happy in life. Well, for me, the happiest moments in my life are when I’m sitting in my room, with my crafts in hand, knowing that my children are happy and safe, that my partner is done doing his thing, that I’ve walked away from work that day and earned my living, and everybody went home safe. Things like that. But also, from my perspective, “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Sarah Harrison 41:54
I love that.
Deb Donner 41:54
I took both of these quotes into this book, and it really changed my perspective. Because like I said, I was looking to beat the crap out of this dude, verbally and mentally. But I think that he proves both of these quotes in the book. And I actually am going to apply both of those to my life. Looking at things differently. That’s awesome. If things aren’t interesting to me, then maybe I’m not interested in that thing. And that’s okay. But having a different perspective.
Sarah Harrison 42:26
It’s on the observer, not the observed where the interest lies.
Deb Donner 42:31
But then also, you were talking a moment ago about happiness, and it reminded me of living in the cult as a kid. And our minister would say, our leader, he would say all the time, “Our kids are the most well-adjusted, happy kids on the planet.” And I remember thinking, oh my gosh, because I’m freaking miserable. I hated it there. I wanted to get out. And I thought, there’s something wrong with me becauseI’m not happy. And if I abide by the rules, if I take part, if I acquiesce, if I give in, then maybe I will be happy. Why am I not happy? And then I look around, I’m asking my friends, are you happy? Are you well-adjusted?
Sarah Harrison 43:18
What did they say?
Deb Donner 43:18
They’re like, are you kidding? Hello? And I’ve talked about it with people afterwards. I have a very good friend. She and I have been friends the longest,. Both of us one day were talking to each other, and she was like, “You are the most constant person in my life for the last 43 years.”
Sarah Harrison 43:36
Deb Donner 43:37
We talk about things. And there’s this point of, we want to prove to the world that what we’re doing is great. It’s a lot of like Scientology, and these groups are like, we’re going to change the world, and we’re gonna make it a better place. And we’re going to do that by making you think that you’re happy. And telling people that these people are happy. We’re not not going to show what’s underneath if you scratch too deep. But I think that there’s a lot to take away from that as far as happiness in life and seeking happiness. That’s not what I want. I want life. I want a rich, full life, and that includes the really bad times. Like the cult. Like living through that, the trauma that from that.
Carolyn Daughters 44:26
That’s part of who you are. For sure.
Sarah Harrison 44:30
You didn’t pick it.
Carolyn Daughters 44:31
But it does give you a unique perspective on life. And you’re able to share that with other people in a way that could be meaningful for those people hearing that story. So you wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Iif you could go back, you might wave a magic wand and have something different. But it’s part of your reality, and that’s the deal. It’s the good and the bad. It’s part of part of your reality, so you’ve got to figure out how to integrate that into your life to the degree possible. And pretending that didn’t happen and always being happy all day every day, maybe that’s an impossible goal.
Deb Donner 45:13
I had a therapist ask me once. You’ve told me all the bad things that happen. Tell me one good thing that happened. Like, there weren’t any good things. There were not any good things. She said, you have to to find the positive in it. Do I really? You as a therapist are telling me I need to find the positive in this horrible, traumatic, abusive environment. Maybe it’s okay that I have that trauma. It’s okay. It’s okay for me. It needed to be okay for her, I suppose. I’m not saying that if I had the chance to do it I would do it. Would I choose that? No. But it’s okay that it wasn’t positive because I’m not there anymore.
Sarah Harrison 46:14
Exactly. Carolyn, do you have a favorite story?
Carolyn Daughters 46:17
Of all the Father Brown stories, my favorite is “The Sign of the Broken Sword.” It’s this interesting story that Father Brown shares that hearkens back to this war being fought in Brazil. This guy, Sir Arthur St. Clare, is declared this British hero and martyr. He vanquished his enemies, always spared them, and was treacherously slain by them at last. We get deeper and deeper into the story as Father Brown is walking through Iceland with his trusted friend Flambeau. As a reader, I was wondering, why are they in Iceland? What are they doing?
Sarah Harrison 47:11
I’ve been to a cemetery in Iceland that almost seems like that one. I remember this huge cemetery, and there’s this big statue in it.
Carolyn Daughters 47:23
Father Brown is telling this story, and we get the bits and pieces of it in the order in which he wants to share it. But we learn that the story is a farce. We learn that Sir Arthur St. Clare was not who he professed to be and who the world believes he is. Flambeau says to Father Brown, we’ve walked through all of these churches in England, and we are now walking through Iceland, which is where St. Clare was born and raised. Why are we doing this? He’s a good enough friend that he’s faithfully accompanying Father Brown without fully understanding the reason why. Father Brown comes to say St. Clare ended up being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of men all to hide a crime that he himself committed. St. Clare killed someone and broke a sword doing it . And to hide that crime, he hid it among hundreds of other deaths so that one crime doesn’t stand out. It’s one among many. What Father Brown is doing is going through the world, trying to confirm that no statue, no signpost, no testament to St. Clare says anything about the Brazilian general having killed him. Father Brown discovers that nobody is falsely pointing fingers at the Brazilian general. Then he can rest assured that he has done everything he can to make sure no wrong was furthered. His goal again is not to bring to justice or bring to light the actual crime. It’s to make sure no other crime grew from a branch of the tree. And that blew my mind. Associated with that. Father Brown asked Flambeau if he recalls whom Dante put in the last circle of ice. In The inferno, it’s the traders who committed fraud against those with whom they shared special bonds of love and trust, family and friends. As they’re walking through Iceland, Flambeau could almost fancy he was Dante and Father Brown was Virgil leading him through a land of eternal sins. For me, that was this entire book of short stories in a nutshell. I loved how this story for me seemed big and overarching as if it was the story summarizing all the rest of the Father Brown stories.
Sarah Harrison 50:26
I like the question we came up with. I wondered what your answers were. You asked, “Is there any Judas in your life or any Virgil in your life?”
Carolyn Daughters 50:38
A Judas or a Brutus would be in the treachery circle of the inferno, right? Somebody you trust. Et tu, Brute — I trust you, Brutus. Certainly, you would never kill me. And then of course, Brutus kills. I have had people close to me shock me with things that they have said or done that have felt like a stab to the heart. Certainly not to the degree of of what happens with Judas and Brutus. But it felt like a violation all the same. When you put your trust in somebody, ou’re comfortable being silent with them, and you’re comfortable sharing with them, you’re just comfortable. Like Flambeau and Father Brown. And then when someone violates that trust, it’s shocking.
Sarah Harrison 51:49
Deb, it sounds like you’ve had certainly some Judas in your life.
Deb Donner 51:54
Yeah. And it’s gonna surprise you that it wasn’t from the cult. Although there was a duplicity going on, it wasn’t as shocking because I knew that they weren’t invested in me. The moment that I felt that was actually my senior year of high school. I had a boyfriend, who I just absolutely loved. I was head over heels in love with this guy and just thought, This is it. This is my, my rock. I was dating him while I was in the cult. And as I escaped the cult, he was there with me. And I remember one day, he just told me that we weren’t going to be able to be together anymore, because I wasn’t a Christian, and he was saved. And I just felt my world fall apart. I just felt like I had been stabbed in the back. So completely. It just it devastated me. And I think that opened my eyes and actually was probably a little therapeutic to realize that I could love somebody and I be comfortable with somebody and trust them and be betrayed and devastated the way I was and live through it. I lived through the cult. But that was actually the hardest for me in my life. Even even all these years later. That’s the one moment that I felt the most betrayed. Surprised, shocked.
Sarah Harrison 54:30
I havee to say, I’d love to have a Virgil.
Carolyn Daughters 54:35
I would love a Virgil.
Sarah Harrison 54:37
I want a Father Brown guiding me. I suppose you could put my ex-husband in the Judas category. Although, ultimately, I feel like sometimes these need to be shocker. By the end, it wasn’t a shocker. I don’t know. I really want a Virgil.
Carolyn Daughters 55:10
I feel like we could talk about this book forever.
Sarah Harrison 55:13
I still want to say so much about the concept of confession. But I guess we’ll get to that.
Carolyn Daughters 55:19
We might have to do a sidebar at some point on confession.
Sarah Harrison 55:23
It’s so integral and fascinating. I don’t want to do like a whole half episode.
Carolyn Daughters 55:30
Folks, we’ve got 16, 17 hours on the Father Brown stories. We actually have two episodes where we’ve said everything we could possibly say in two episodes, and we could easily have extended it.
Sarah Harrison 55:43
Definitely go read Father Brown. It’s never too late to make comments. We love comments. We love ideas. We have an awesome book coming up next, but I think you were not sure that it was awesome.
Carolyn Daughters 55:59
I have mixed feelings about this book. Our next book is Trent’s Last Case by E. C. Bentley.
Sarah Harrison 56:04
It has a great cover.
Carolyn Daughters 56:05
Many of the different covers are pretty cool. Trent is a less than perfect sleuth an anti-Sherlock Holmes. Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, The Saturday Review, The New York Times basically lauded this as the book of all time. So amazing, the best mystery ever written, … Whatever praise this book could have been given it received. So my takeaway was a little unexpected. I’m gonna very much look forward to Sarah’s point of view and readers, your point of view. This book definitely moves the form forward because he does some really crafty things.
Sarah Harrison 57:07
I’m looking forward to it. We’ll see if I feel the same at the end. That’s what’s fun about reading all these books.
Carolyn Daughters 57:15
Well, Deb, thank you for being on two of our podcast episodes.
Sarah Harrison 57:19
Deb, you’ve been amazing. Thanks for talking with us about these Father Brown stories!
Deb Donner 57:21
Thank you. Anytime. I’d love to come back. I love to talk.
Sarah Harrison 57:26
We would love to have you back.
Carolyn Daughters 57:29
Sarah, take us out.
Sarah Harrison 57:33
Deb, do you do you have a suggestion for our outro? Stay mysterious. Drink some tea.
Carolyn Daughters 57:43
Listeners stay mysterious.
Deb Donner 57:48
February 11, 2024
Barbara Nickless is a Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts bestselling crime novelist who joined Sarah and Carolyn in their makeshift studio for a heartfelt discussion about her writing and research process, her travels, and her latest book, Play of Shadows. Amazing woman, amazing writer. You’ll love her.Listen →
January 29, 2024
Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett joins us on a second episode to discuss The Thin Man, Nick and Nora Charles, and all things Dashiell Hammett. Color us honored, which I envision as pleurigloss with a hint of alpha plaid. What a DELIGHTFUL conversation. Folks, you want to hear what Julie has to say. Trust me.Listen →
January 21, 2024
We could have interviewed Julie M. Rivett for days on end. She’s fascinating in her own right, and she shared AMAZING information about her grandfather, Dashiell Hammett. This one’s a must-listen, folks. Well, they’re all must-listens in our biased opinions, but this one belongs at the top of the must-listen list.Listen →