Puckish and unassuming, as colorless in personality as he is in name, slight in stature yet possessing an immensity of spirit that lies hidden beneath his parson’s hat, Father Brown is an easy protagonist to overlook. Frequently, in the dozen tales that make up this collection, he seems at risk of getting lost within the outlandish, romanticized picture that Chesterton paints of Edwardian England and points beyond. But in case after case, the sly little priest comes into view at just the right moment, emerging from clouds of fantasy—almost like a descending angel—in order to exorcize the demons that haunt the twilit plane on which he works his wonders. Amid the hills of Tuscany, brigands kidnap an English “colossus of finance.” On a Paris boulevard, a reactionary army officer proposes to duel a scientist whom he accuses of treason, and then disappears without leaving a trace. Along the rocky, perilous coast of Cornwall, an ancient family curse threatens to set its evil in motion once again. In each instance, Brown dispels the mystery of criminal circumstance even as he summons forth the mystery of faith. Chesterton writes well, but often he overwrites, turning an air of mystery into a fog of confused action. Still, he usually succeeds both in construing a neat puzzle and in furthering a much grander agenda: the reenchantment of our dull and fallen modern world.
G.K. CHESTERTON. The Wisdom of Father Brown (1913).