I feel kind of harsh giving this book 2 stars, since I really enjoyed the first five stories, which were the ones I was reading for university. In facI feel kind of harsh giving this book 2 stars, since I really enjoyed the first five stories, which were the ones I was reading for university. In fact, I enjoyed them so much I decided to carry on reading this 700-odd page anthology, even though the required reading for the module was only the first 125pp or so. Taken on its own, Book 1, "The Innocence of Father Brown", would have easily earned an extra star or two from me. Book 2, "The Wisdom of Father Brown", was still fun to read, but I found the stories were starting to feel either slightly repetitive, as Chesterton resorted to similar plots as those he used in the first collection, or confusing and unsatisfying in their resolutions. I only made it halfway through the second story in Book 3, "The Incredulity of Father Brown", before giving up - I just wasn't being drawn in by the premise any more, especially as Father Brown was by now inexplicably transplanted from his quaint English parish to a globe-trotting career as spiritual adviser to the rich and famous in the Americas. (Seriously, did I miss something there?). Usually I'm loath to give up on a book, but this downturn occurred just shy of the collection's halfway mark, and I decided that on this occasion it was simply an unjustified investment of my time to hang on to the end, 400 or so pages away, just to see if things improved.
Not that I'm accusing Chesterton of being a bad writer; he's funny and his characters are engaging in ways that make up for the odd unbelievable moment or plot hole, the sort that are to be found in any long-running detective series. But, as the introduction to the volume informed me when I turned to it for answers, the author was writing from Book 3 onwards under some duress. Like Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, Chesterton had grown tired of his signature creation and wanted to retire him; as with Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, public demand for more Father Brown stories eventually wore down the author's resistance; but unlike Conan Doyle and Christie, Chesterton does not, to my mind, succeed in hiding his boredom with the series. The situations become more outlandish as if to make up for the fact that the endearing heart of the original few stories has gone. And for me, it just didn't work.
I think that perhaps I'd have had more patience with this series if I'd been reading the five or six original collections separately, rather than in one complete volume. I love Agatha Christie, particularly the Hercule Poirot series, but I think I'd get bored reading all the Poirot stories back-to-back in a single collection, too; this style of presentation does serve to highlight some of the repetitions and escalations that are present in most long-running detective series, but that aren't particularly obvious or bothersome if you read them with a decent gap in-between. I hope to come back to my copy of the Complete Father Brown some day, with fresh eyes and a few other books to read alongside it, to break it up into stand-alone short stories as they were originally intended to be read. In the meantime, I'd recommend anyone who loves detective fiction to go out and find a copy of "The Innocence of Father Brown", but to consider reading it and judging it by itself and on its own merits, rather than using this collection as an introduction to the character and the series....more