Share - Fall 2017 - 44
and the Ten Commandments
Selected Mystery Stories by G.K. Chesterton
(Edited and with an Introduction by John Peterson)
(Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2017)
f you are a fan of the public television mystery series
starring priest/detective Father Brown - as I am - then
you will find this book a real treat.
Father Brown is the black-garbed, bicycle-riding British
Catholic priest who solves mysteries and crimes when
others cannot. The TV mystery series is based on the books
of British author G.K. (for Gilbert Keith) Chesterton. When
Chesterton created Father Brown, he enlarged the scope and
brought a whole new dimension to the genre of detective
fiction - introducing God and the concept of sin. Chesterton,
who lived from 1874-1936 and was a convert to Catholicism,
defined his character as a man who is always a priest first
and a detective second.
Thus Father Brown is first and foremost committed to
saving souls. He is a parish priest with a deep understanding
of human nature; he will sometimes try to get the villain of the
story to confess what he has done and ask for forgiveness.
As the book's introduction by John Peterson says, "The priest
is most interested in God's Commandments, not in the legal
code of the State." Peterson, who edited this collection of
stories, is a longtime scholar of author Chesterton, who also
wrote essays, biographies, criticism and popular books.
Each story starts under the heading of one of the 10
commandments. There is nothing pedantic about these 11
stories (a numerical discrepancy explained by Peterson as
due to scholars' disagreement on how the 10 commandments
should be counted). These are sophisticated mysteries with
many twists and turns, most quite unexpected. With his
broad-brimmed black hat and black furled umbrella, Father
Brown stands at the scene of a crime, his eyes noticing
telltale details and his fine mind ticking off their significance.
Policemen who are acquainted with the priest know how
helpful he can be in solving crimes others cannot. Chesterton
writes, "All his life he had been led by an intellectual hunger
for the truth, even of trifles."
SHARE * FALL 2017
Father Brown is a master at seeing through what appears
to be obvious and coming to an entirely different conclusion.
For example, he understands that an arrow can be shot from
a bow, as it usually is, but it can also be used as a dagger.
The people with whom Father Brown comes in contact in
the course of investigating a mystery recognize that he is an
unusual and unusually gifted detective. One man remarks,
"Father Brown, you're very smart, but there's more to you
than smartness." That something more, of course, is the
priest's devotion to God. His faith gives him a particular
sensitivity to evil and the bravery to face it: "He had a strong
sense of the smell of evil; he felt queer physical oppression;
but he did not think of stopping." The first story in this
collection, The Eye of Apollo, is one of my favorites, and
comes under the heading of the first commandment: "You
shall have no other gods before me."
The titles of some of the other stories give a sense of the
breadth of Chesterton's imagination: The Arrow of Heaven;
The Sign of the Broken Sword; The Head of Caesar; The
Actor and the Alibi; and The Green Man, to name a few. The
writing is a cut above that in most detective stories. For
example, in describing a mist-shrouded morning Chesterton
writes: "Father Brown was walking home from Mass on a
white weird morning when the mists were slowly lifting..."
In another story he writes of frost, "The thousand arms of
the forest were grey, and its million fingers silver." And in the
same story he writes, "A large frozen moon like a lustrous
snowball began to show through the tangle of twigs in front
In reading these stories, I found that Father Brown was
always steps ahead of me - the mark of a good mystery
writer. I also found that Father Brown's faith and his
essential goodness always come through, a tribute to
the author who so carefully crafted the character of his