The Wisdom of Fr Brown by GK Chesterton

collection published 1913    story: The Strange Crime of John Boulnois

He saw something else …--the figure of a man.

He saw it there only for a moment... it was outlandish and incredible in costume, being clad from neck to heel in tight crimson, with glints of gold… The wild red figure reeled an instant against the sundial; the next it had rolled down the steep bank and lay at the American's feet, faintly moving one arm. A gaudy, unnatural gold ornament on the arm suddenly reminded Kidd of Romeo and Juliet; of course the tight crimson suit was part of the play. But there was a long red stain down the bank from which the man had rolled--that was no part of the play. He had been run through the body.

There came… a young woman in silvery satins of a Renascence design; she had golden hair in two long shining ropes, and a face so startlingly pale between them that she might have been chryselephantine--made, that is, like some old Greek statues, out of ivory and gold. But her eyes were very bright, and her voice, though low, was confident.

"Father Brown?" she said.

observations: This dramatic scene is the unexpected culmination of a bout of amateur theatricals – always a good prospect for enjoyable trouble in detective fiction, as the opportunities for crime AND fancy costumes are appealing to writers. In the Fr Brown story ‘The Flying Stars’ there is an even better example – changed quite a lot for the new version broadcast by BBC TV in the UK last week. Was the original too hard to make convincing?

The new adaptations have taken dramatic liberties – the setting has been moved to the 1950s, and Fr Brown’s parish is quite bizarrely unconvincing (EVERYONE in the village is RC? And that church – it is so plainly Church of England, it hasn’t been Catholic in 400 years), but still the series is quite splendid, making for most enjoyable watching.

And the stories still make good reading too, both for intrinsic interest and as period pieces. In this one, a character has found ‘some weak points in Darwinian evolution’ – he is a proponent of Catastrophism, but perhaps a form of punctuated equilibrium is on his mind? 

It is interesting that the word chryselephantine is so ugly, when presumably the items it describes were meant to be beautiful. Somehow, one has no very high hopes.

Links on the blog: Shakespearean costumes came under consideration here, and Darwin appeared recently, along with a really good picture of a gaucho. This priestly sleuth was described as 'no Father Brown'.

The image is from the Library of Congress.


  1. Moira - Oh, I've always liked the Father Brown stories, so I'm very glad you reminded me of this one (it's been FAR too long since I've read it). I've not been able to see the TV series yet so I can't comment on that. I hope it comes to where I live at some point...

  2. It's a long time since I read any of the Father Brown stories, so perhaps I should go back to them before passing judgement on the TV series. But actually that won't stop me! I've seen two episodes & they felt a little like a short, period verson of Midsomer Murders - which isn't at all how I remember GK Chesterton. So there really is no choice but to dig those old Penguins out!

  3. Like Suzi, it's been so long wince I read these stories and they are sitting on my shelves. I think that I will give the another go too and see how I feel about them as an older reader.


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