Father Brown

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"The little priest was so much the essence of those Eastern flats; he had a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had several brown paper parcels, which he was quite incapable of collecting."

Father Brown is a fictional detective created by G. K. Chesterton. To be exact, he is called Father J. Brown, though we are never told what the initial stands for, and is originally presented as the parish priest of Cobhole in Essex, though he is found in parishes as far afield as Italy and South America. In appearance he is undistinguished, small and dumpy, short-sighted and not particularly intelligent; dressed in shabby clerical black, and carrying an umbrella as dumpy and shabby as himself.

The Father Brown mysteries generally appeared first as independent short stories in various magazines; (most of) the stories were eventually collected in a series of five books:

  • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)
  • The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914)
  • The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926)
  • The Secret of Father Brown (1927), and
  • The Scandal of Father Brown (1935).

Three stories, "The Donnington Affair" (1914) (GKC writing the solution of a mystery set up by Max Pemberton), "The Vampire of the Village" (1936), and "The Mask of Midas" (1936), were published separately, though the second of these was later included in editions of Scandal.

In 1934 a film version of Chesterton's priest based on "The Blue Cross"' appeared with the title Father Brown, Detective, with Walter Connelly in the title rôle. In 1954 Father Brown (U.S. title, The Detective) appeared with Alec Guinness as the eponymous priest. Heinz Rühmann played Father Brown in two German adaptations of Chesterton's stories, Das schwarze Schaf ("The Black Sheep") (1960) and Er kann's nicht lassen ("He Can't Stop Doing It") (1962). (The score to these, by Martin Böttcher, became very popular in Germany.) In 1970 an Italian television series entitled I racconti di padre Brown ("The Tales of Father Brown") starred the well-known Italian comedian Renato Rascel. In 1974, Kenneth More starred in a 13-episode Father Brown TV series, each episode adapted from one of Chesterton's short stories. In 1979, the TV move Sanctuary of Fear featured an American Father Brown (Barnard Hughes) sleuthing in contemporary New York City. A German television series, Pfarrer Braun ("Pastor Brown"), loosely based on the Chesterton character, is in production since 2003; its title theme by Martin Böttcher is a Shout-Out to the one of the Heinz Rühmann films.

Compare/contrast the Bishop Blackie Mysteries by Andrew M. Greeley.

The following tropes are common to many or all entries in the Father Brown franchise.
For tropes specific to individual installments, visit their respective work pages.

(Note that the following examples are heavy on spoilers!)

  • Actually, That's My Assistant: Invoked in "The Scandal of Father Brown"
  • Amateur Sleuth: Father Brown.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: In "The Resurrection of Father Brown"
  • Atonement Detective: Father Brown meets and bests a thief named Flambeau, who (to atone for his crimes?) becomes a detective himself.
  • Badass Boast: In a quiet sort of way. Father Brown confronts Flambeau for a second time in the story "The Queer Feet". Flambeau, who doesn't yet recognize the father, and is larger and far stronger, claims not to want to threaten him:

"I do want to threaten you," said Father Brown, in a voice like a rolling drum, "I want to threaten you with the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched.... I am a priest, Monsieur Flambeau ... and I am ready to hear your confession."

  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Subverted with extreme prejudice.
    • The aversion of this trope is lampshaded in Father Brown's very first story, "The Blue Cross"

"...But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren't a priest."
"What?" asked the thief, almost gaping.
"You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology."

    • From the same story: "Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?"
  • Be My Valentine: Aristide Valentin in "The Blue Cross" and "The Secret Garden."
  • Beneath Notice: In "The Invisible Man," a man is murdered and witnesses say they saw nobody. Father Brown figures out that the murderer was dressed as a postman, and the witnesses didn't pay any attention to him.
  • Blue Blood: Despite GKC's very commonly expressed dislike of aristocratic systems of government, his work abounds in noblemen, both sympathetic and unsympathetic, e.g., in "The Purple Wig." Some of them are even of real aristocratic lineage, too.
  • Brown Note: "The Blast Of The Book" revolves around a book that is reported to drive anyone who reads even a few words of it to self-destruction.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: A character with red hair is almost always Good in Chesterton. Less frequently, Blond Guys Are Evil -- especially if the blondness looks somehow artificial ("gilded").
  • Confessional: Is very often Father Brown's goal for the criminals he detects.
  • Criminal Mind Games: "The Insoluble Problem"
  • Deal with the Devil: Invoked in "The Dagger With Wings."
  • Depth Deception: Referenced in "The Song of the Flying Fish."
  • Driven to Suicide: Not uncommon in the Father Brown stories, as for instance, in "The Secret Garden": "...and on the blind face of the suicide was all the pride of Cato."
  • Duel to the Death: In "The Duel of Dr. Hirsch," the eponymous doctor is a party in a duel that does not quite come off because he's faked it as a publicity stunt, and he's actually both parties in the duel.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: "The Arrow of Heaven" is a good example.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Subverted heavily
  • Exact Words: Father Brown suffers from this constantly, as in "The Quick One": "...I never said he was a murderer. I said he was the man we wanted." As a witness.
  • Fairy Tale: As in "The Fairy Tale of Father Brown."
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Reasonably enough, as all of the stories were written between 1910 and 1936.
  • Gentleman Thief: Flambeau is an example.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Regularly invoked by Father Brown himself.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Very common, helping to spread round the motive for murder, as in "The Man in the Passage."
  • Happily Married: Very common in Chesterton -- no doubt reflecting his own happy marriage. One example is Flambeau and his wife in The Secret of Father Brown.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Used in several stories, notably "The Invisible Man."
  • Hypocrite: As, for instance, in "The Ghost of Gideon Wise."
  • Identical Grandson: In "The Doom of the Darnaways." (Ho-ho!)
  • If Jesus, Then Aliens: Defied. Father Brown is quite devout, but doesn't believe in anything supernatural at first sight, and is very quick to correct those who attempt to use this logic themselves. Multiple mysteries are mistaken for miracles, curses or what have you, and Brown is usually there to prove that they are quite mundane and staged to look supernatural.
  • Impoverished Patrician: "The Doom of the Darnaways," for example.
  • Interdisciplinary Sleuth: Father Brown is, as the name would imply, a priest.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Not a positive example. He observed Father Brown helping a woman run from an ugly man with a handsome one and, assuming it's a typical Ugly Guy, Hot Wife scenario, immediately sent a story about how a priest broke a sacred marriage, ruining his reputation. The ugly one was the lover -- she'd been attracted to him briefly only because he was a talented poet -- and yes, her lawful husband was decidedly better-looking.
  • Malicious Slander
  • Mirror Scare: The key to the murderer's identity in "The Mirror of the Magistrate." He shot at a mirror -- because unexpectedly seeing his own reflection, he thought he was looking at the man he'd come to kill. Meaning they looked somewhat alike....
  • Mistaken for Servant: Used in at least two of the stories, "The Queer Feet" and "The Strange Crime of John Boulnois."
  • Moral Event Horizon: Discussed In-Universe in "The Sign of the Broken Sword". Being a greedy and corrupted traitor? Not okay. Killing the one who found out about that? Real bad. Killing an entire army so that no one would ever find his corpse? There we go.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: "The Sign of the Broken Sword":

Where would a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. If there were no forest, he would make a forest. And if he wished to hide a dead leaf, he would make a dead forest.

  • Nice to the Waiter: "The Actor and the Alibi"
  • Never Suicide: Subverted in "The Three Tools of Death" when Sir Aaron Armstrong commits suicide and everyone thinks it's murder.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Father Brown appears at first glance to be a simple, not-too-bright parish priest, and sometimes plays this up to get criminals to drop their guard around him.
  • Off with His Head: "The Secret Garden"
  • Path of Inspiration: "The Eye of Apollo"
  • Pepper Sneeze: In "The Salad of Colonel Cray," a key clue to the mystery is some unexplained sneezes heard near the scene of the crime. It is eventually explained that the criminal sneezed when throwing away to the dustbin the pepper that could have been used to counter the action of the poison he was planning to use.
  • Police Are Useless: A police detective complains about this trope in one story. He points out that while the police may not be as intuitively brilliant as the average fictional detective, they are not even shown as having the virtues they do have such as storing and sharing information.
  • Preemptive Declaration: Used by Father Brown, of all people, in "The Blue Cross."

Waiter: 'The parson at the door he says all serene, 'Sorry to confuse your accounts, but it'll pay for the window.' 'What window?' I says. 'The one I'm going to break,' he says, and smashed that blessed pane with his umbrella.