**spoiler alert** Okay, I admit that I didn't finish the book, but I think reading eight stories out of twelve is all the consideration that Father Br...more**spoiler alert** Okay, I admit that I didn't finish the book, but I think reading eight stories out of twelve is all the consideration that Father Brown deserves.
I listened to this as a LibriVox audiobook, and I can highly recommend it for those who can stand Chesterton's unrelenting smugness. I, alas, could not.
At first, I, like another reviewer, was briefly surprised and pleased to find Chesterton pairing up Father Brown with an atheist copper. Here might have been a fruitful give-and-take that could have set the stage for profound digressions on religion, faith, and doubt in the context of a cozy mystery. Sadly, my illusions lasted for only one story, because Chesterton dared not brook any disagreement with his theology. So instead, he forces Valentin, the French rationalist and detective, to become the most improbable murderer since the Ripper killings were blamed on Prince Albert Victor, and then kill himself off. Why? Because his murder victim might have converted to Catholicism and used his funds to finance more pro-clerical, right-wing publications in France that might have—gasp!—said mean things about Valentin. Why Valentin should have believed that an American like Julius K. Brayne would have been interested in funding right-wing French periodicals is not explained. Nor is it explained why Valentin keeps an example of their work around his place if he's so utterly and implacably opposed to them, as he is clearly not the type to brood over slights and insults and curse the existence of those that made them.
None of this matters to Chesterton, because Chesterton is a bad writer. He doesn't give a damn about whether his characters behave consistently or whether they even make sense. All he cares about is pushing the dubious point that nonbelievers, be they atheists, spiritualists, or the faithful of Eastern religions, are universally more irrational than good old white Anglo Christians like himself. In doing so, he ironically creates detective stories that are markedly irrational in their own right.
The story that killed my interest in the rest of the Father Brown series stone dead was "The Wrong Shape", where we are treated to Father Brown discussing an Asian dagger:
"It's very beautiful," said the priest in a low, dreaming voice; "the colours are very beautiful. But it's the wrong shape."
"What for?" asked Flambeau, staring.
"For anything. It's the wrong shape in the abstract. Don't you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad—deliberately mean and bad. I have seen wicked things in a Turkey carpet."
"Mon Dieu!" cried Flambeau, laughing.
"They are letters and symbols in a language I don't know; but I know they stand for evil words," went on the priest, his voice growing lower and lower. "The lines go wrong on purpose—like serpents doubling to escape."
"What the devil are you talking about?" said the doctor with a loud laugh.
Flambeau spoke quietly to him in answer. "The Father sometimes gets this mystic's cloud on him," he said; "but I give you fair warning that I have never known him to have it except when there was some evil quite near."
And guess what? Father Brown's "mystic's cloud" is proved to be utterly correct. So let's think about what that means: Father Brown is shown to be correct in the context of a discussion where he affirms the complete, irredeemable wickedness of all Asians and Asian culture. It is a perfect example of what the Nazis called völkisch racial wisdom: an intangible, prerational, but nevertheless correct belief in the inferiority of the non-white races. Little wonder that Chesterton later flirted with pro-fascist views when looking on political developments in Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
To use Chesterton's own words against him, his stories are "mean and bad—deliberately mean and bad". The logic is weak and the resolutions don't make sense because Chesterton isn't interested in the mystery story as a literary form; he is only interested in driving home his reactionary, proto-fascist views to the reader. Father Brown, far from being the humble country curate, has a decidedly petty and vicious streak.
To scrub Chesterton's nastiness out of my brain, I downloaded—also from LibriVox—Anatole France's Penguin Island (L'Île des Pingouins), his satire of the dogmatism, anti-Jewish bigotry, and jingoism of late 19th and early 20th century Europe. France, a true humanist and genuine wit, stands miles above the crabbed, bigoted, and imperialist humbug called G.K. Chesterton.(less)
An entertaining Western, well-paced, excellently written. There is a portion of the book that suggests that the author was somewhat familiar with the...moreAn entertaining Western, well-paced, excellently written. There is a portion of the book that suggests that the author was somewhat familiar with the story of Phineas Gage. That was something I didn't expect to be worked in to this novel.(less)