Source: The Innocence of Father Brown, Project Gutenberg Australia
Seems dark, chilly nights were meant for armchair detectives, such as we. Of course, our favorite mystery stories would not be complete without those who solve them. And in the world of mystery and intrigue, two sleuths stand above the rest: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown. One relied on logic and deduction to solve crimes, the other on a personal understanding of the human heart.
In the words of the good father himself, you think that you are a man of the world and that I am not. But I assure you, my ‘innocent’ ears encounter every day stories of a horror that would make your sophisticated hair stand on end. Although I wear funny clothes, and have taken certain vows, I live far more in the world that you do.
In case you’re unfamiliar, Father Brown made his debut in The Blue Cross (1910). He became immensely popular, prompting Chesterton to write more than four dozen tales involving the priest. Lest you think Chesterton caved, abandoning literature in favor of drivel for the masses, such was not the case.
As a matter of fact, he wrote in defense of the detective story, including The Ideal Detective Story (1930):
The detective story differs from every other story in this: that the reader is only happy if he feels a fool . . . The essence of a mystery tale is that we are suddenly confronted with a truth which we have never suspected and yet can see to be true. There is no reason, in logic, why this truth should not be a profound and convincing one as much as a shallow and convention one . . . The side of the character that cannot be connected with the crime has to be presented first; the crime has to be presented next as something in complete contract with it; and the psychological reconciliation of the two must come after that, in the place where the common or garden detective explains that he was led to the truth by the stump of a cigar left on the lawn or the spot of red ink on the blotting-pad in the boudoir.
So, the next time you’re tempted to look down upon someone who reads little more than mystery novels–think again; the next time others turn their noses up when you mention your love of a good intrigue, try not to be smug. For you see, not only can mystery novels pass for good literature, they most emphatically should.