Friday, February 3, 2017

Short Stories of Murder and Mayhem: The Innocence of Father Brown

The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton

I read this book with a book club. It's the first book of Father Brown stories and includes twelve short stories. We read four stories for each of three meetings.

I enjoyed these stories, and much of the writing was wonderful. The very first sentence of "The Blue Cross" reads:
Between the silver ribbon of morning and the green glittering ribbon of sea, the boat touched Harwich and let loose a swarm of folk like flies, among whom the man we must follow was by no means conspicuous--nor wished to be.
A few of the stories didn't make much sense, given what we know now after a few decades of crime television shows. In more than one, it seems like Father Brown figures out the mystery, but allows the murderer to go free. In at least one, he claims he will keep the secret but encourages the murderer to turn himself in, but it's not always clear the guilty party does so. Perhaps the debate within a guilty conscience is part of the consideration of the stories.

The final story in particular seemed to allow a guilty party, one guilty of leading an army to its death to cover his own misdoings, to remain unsullied in public opinion. The mystery unveiled seemed contrived compared to the events described and the person's character as he was remembered and described. It seemed unlikely to us that someone who be so misconstrued but it was another time.

There are bits and pieces within the stories that encourage the reader to consider more than just the events within the plot. In "The Sins of Prince Saradine," Father Brown considers justice.
"I mean that we here are on the wrong side of the tapestry," answered Father Brown. "The things that happen here do not seem to mean anything; they mean something somewhere else. Somewhere else retribution will come on the real offender. Here it often seems to fall on the wrong person." 
So, fun to read. Perhaps not the best choice for our book club, which was much more interested in chatting for a few hours a month than actually discussing anything. Though I hear that's pretty often true so perhaps it doesn't matter what book we choose.

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