Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Chesterton wrote nearly fifty Father Brown mysteries in five collections during a period of twenty-five years. Each of the Father Brown stories follows a fairly recognizable formula; toward the end of the tale, the priest unravels the chain of events that have led to a seemingly unsolvable crime—astounding the principals in the story as well as Father Brown’s protégé-detective, Flambeau. In many ways, Father Brown is the prototype of the modern detective who discovers the “unfamiliar in the familiar.” In “The Invisible Man,” Father Brown notices what the others in the story do not: the “invisible” postal carrier working anonymously in their midst. His eye for the seemingly insignificant detail sets him apart from his fellows and heightens his deductive powers.

The remarkable Father Brown is less a typical parish priest than a spokesperson for Chesterton’s own orthodox Christian social views. Consequently, the Father Brown tales often contain wry social commentary on the class structure in Britain and deflate the pomposity and pride that the intellectuals of Chesterton’s culture often evinced. Chesterton was nothing if not a defender of the “common folk,” and his Father Brown series consistently champions the ordinary and the commonsensical over the flamboyant and the intellectualized. The world of Father Brown is thus the idealized world that Chesterton imagined a truly Christian society would evoke.