Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Reading a Chesterton detective story is an intellectually challenging experience for readers who try to solve the crimes themselves; it requires pulling together seemingly unconnected clues. Many elements in “The Blue Cross” reveal Chesterton’s masterful command of paradox. At first glance, Father Brown’s behavior is incomprehensible, both to the other characters and to readers. The restaurant owner whose window Father Brown smashes with an umbrella believes him to be an “escaped lunatic,” and the greengrocer whose apple stand he knocks over believes him to be a “fool.” However, if Chesterton’s readers feel that there is a method to Father Brown’s apparent madness, they must try to discover the connections among all these paradoxical actions. Gradually, readers come to realize that Father Brown’s actions are essential for his own protection and to prevent the valuable blue cross from being stolen by Flambeau. It is difficult not to react intellectually to many Father Brown stories because Chesterton constantly challenges readers to discover the true explanation for many seemingly unconnected and strange clues.

“The Blue Cross” was the first of fifty Father Brown stories that Chesterton published between 1911 and 1935. Chesterton wrote in an extremely refined and witty style that still pleases and challenges readers today. His extraordinary skill in combining intuition with theological insights into human behavior remains unique in the history of detective fiction.