Father Brown

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Father Brown
Father Brown.JPG
First appearanceThe Blue Cross
Created byG. K. Chesterton
Portrayed byWalter Connolly
Karl Swenson
Alec Guinness
Heinz Rühmann
Josef Meinrad
Kenneth More
Leslie French
Barnard Hughes
Renato Rascel
Andrew Sachs
J. T. Turner
Kevin O'Brien
Mark Williams
In-universe information

Father Brown is a fictional Roman Catholic priest and amateur detective who is featured in 53 short stories published between 1910 and 1936 written by English novelist G. K. Chesterton.[1] Father Brown solves mysteries and crimes using his intuition and keen understanding of human nature. Chesterton loosely based him on the Rt Rev. Msgr. John O'Connor (1870–1952), a parish priest in Bradford, who was involved in Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism in 1922.[1]


Chesterton describes Father Brown as a short, stumpy Roman Catholic priest, with shapeless clothes, a large umbrella, and an uncanny insight into human evil. In "The Head of Caesar" he is "formerly priest of Cobhole in Essex, and now working in London". The character's first name is almost never referred to, but in the story "The Eye of Apollo", he is described as "Rev. J. Brown", while in "The Sign of the Broken Sword", he is apparently named Paul.

Father Brown makes his first appearance in the story "The Blue Cross" published in 1910 and continues to appear throughout fifty short stories in five volumes, with two more stories discovered and published posthumously, often assisted in his crime-solving by the reformed criminal M. Hercule Flambeau.

Father Brown also appears in a third story — making a total of fifty-three — that did not appear in the five volumes published in Chesterton's lifetime, "The Donnington Affair", which has a curious history. In the October 1914 issue of an obscure magazine, The Premier, Sir Max Pemberton published the first part of the story, then invited a number of detective story writers, including Chesterton, to use their talents to solve the mystery of the murder described. Chesterton and Father Brown's solution followed in the November issue. The story was first reprinted in the Chesterton Review, 1981, pp. 1–35 in the book Thirteen Detectives.[2]

Unlike the better-known fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown's methods tend to be intuitive rather than deductive. He explains his method in "The Secret of Father Brown": "You see, I had murdered them all myself.... I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully. I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was."

Brown's abilities are also considerably shaped by his experience as a priest and confessor. In "The Blue Cross", when asked by Flambeau, who has been masquerading as a priest, how he knew of all sorts of criminal "horrors", Father Brown responds: "Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?" He also states how he knew Flambeau was not really a priest: "You attacked reason. It's bad theology."

The stories normally contain a rational explanation of who the murderer was and how Brown worked it out. He always emphasises rationality; some stories, such as "The Miracle of Moon Crescent", "The Oracle of the Dog", "The Blast of the Book" and "The Dagger with Wings", poke fun at initially sceptical characters who become convinced of a supernatural explanation for some strange occurrence, but Father Brown easily sees the perfectly ordinary, natural explanation. In fact, he seems to represent an ideal of a devout but considerably educated and "civilised" clergyman. That can be traced to the influence of Roman Catholic thought on Chesterton. Father Brown is characteristically humble and is usually rather quiet, except to say something profound. Although he tends to handle crimes with a steady, realistic approach, he believes in the supernatural as the greatest reason of all.[3]

Many of the Father Brown stories were produced for financial reasons and at great speed.[4] Chesterton wrote in 1920 that "I think it only fair to confess that I have myself written some of the worst mystery stories in the world."[5] At the time he wrote this, Chesterton had given up writing Father Brown stories, though he would later return to them; Chester wrote 25 Father Brown stories between 1910 and 1914, then another 18 from 1923 to 1927, then 10 more from 1930 to 1936.

Other recurring characters[edit]

  • Flambeau is a thief and master of disguise
  • Aristide Valentin is a senior French policeman


Father Brown was a vehicle for conveying Chesterton's view of the world and, of all of his characters, is perhaps closest to Chesterton's own point of view, or at least the effect of his point of view. Father Brown solves his crimes through a strict reasoning process more concerned with spiritual and philosophic truths than with scientific details, making him an almost equal counterbalance with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, whose stories Chesterton read.[a] However, the Father Brown series commenced before Chesterton's own conversion to Roman Catholicism.

In his Letters from Prison, the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci made this partisan declaration of his preference:

Father Brown is a Catholic who pokes fun at the mechanical thought processes of the Protestants and the book is basically an apologia of the Roman Church as against the Anglican Church. Sherlock Holmes is the 'Protestant' detective who finds the end of the criminal skein by starting from the outside, relying on science, on experimental method, on induction. Father Brown is the Catholic priest who through the refined psychological experiences offered by confession and by the persistent activity of the fathers' moral casuistry, though not neglecting science and experimentation, but relying especially on deduction and introspection, totally defeats Sherlock Holmes, makes him look like a pretentious little boy, shows up his narrowness and pettiness. Moreover, Chesterton is a great artist while Conan Doyle was a mediocre writer, even though he was knighted for literary merit; thus in Chesterton there is a stylistic gap between the content, the detective story plot, and the form, and therefore a subtle irony with regard to the subject being dealt with, which renders these stories so delicious.[7]

After Chesterton[edit]

As with Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Nero Wolfe, tales featuring Chesterton's priest detective continue to be created even after the original author's death.

John Peterson has written a further forty-four mysteries solved by Father Brown.[8]

In the Italian novel Il destino di Padre Brown ("Father Brown's Destiny") by Paolo Gulisano, the priest detective is elected pope after Pius XI with the pontifical name of Innocent XIV.[9]

In other media[edit]




  • Josef Meinrad played Father Brown in an Austrian TV series (1966–72), which followed Chesterton's plots quite closely.
  • In 1974, Kenneth More starred in a 13-episode Father Brown TV series, each episode adapted from one of Chesterton's short stories. The series, produced by Sir Lew Grade for Associated TeleVision, was shown in the United States as part of PBS's Mystery!. They were released on DVD in the UK in 2003 by Acorn Media UK, and in the United States four years later by Acorn Media.
  • A US film made for television, Sanctuary of Fear (1979),[17] starred Barnard Hughes as an Americanized, modernised Father Brown in Manhattan, New York City, and Kay Lenz, as Carol Bains. The film was intended as the pilot for a series but critical and audience reaction was unfavorable, largely due to the changes made to the character, and the mundane thriller plot.
  • An Italian television miniseries in six episodes, "I racconti di padre Brown" (The Tales of Father Brown) starring Renato Rascel in the title role and Arnoldo Foà as Flambeau was produced and broadcast by the national TV RAI between December 1970 and February 1971 to a wide audience (one episode peaked at 12 million viewers).
  • Ralph McInerny used Father Brown as the spiritual inspiration for his Father Dowling pilot script[18] which launched The Father Dowling Mysteries, a television series that ran from 1987 to 1991 on US television. An anthology of the two detectives' stories, titled Thou Shalt Not Kill: Father Brown, Father Dowling and Other Ecclesiastical Sleuths, was released in 1992.
  • EWTN[19] produced the Father Brown story "The Honour of Israel Gow" as an episode of the television series The Theater of the Word,[20] which first aired in 2009, starring actor and Theater of the Word founder Kevin O'Brien[21] and Frank C. Turner.[22]
  • A German television series superficially based on the character of Father Brown, Pfarrer Braun, was launched in 2003. Pfarrer Guido Braun, from Bavaria, played by Ottfried Fischer, solves murder cases in the (fictitious) island of Nordersand in the first two episodes. Later, other German landscapes like the Harz, the Rhine and Meißen in Saxony became sets for the show. Martin Böttcher again wrote the score and he was instructed by the producers to write a title theme hinting at the theme of the movies with Heinz Rühmann. Twenty-two episodes were made, which ran very successfully in Germany on ARD. The twenty-second episode, which was aired on 20 March 2014, concluded the series with the death of the protagonist.
  • In 2012, the BBC commissioned the ten-episode series Father Brown starring British actor Mark Williams in the title role. It aired on BBC One beginning January 2013, Monday to Friday, over a two-week period in the afternoon. The era and location are moved to the Cotswolds of the early 1950s and used adaptations and original stories. Filming for the series began around the Cotswolds in summer 2012.[23] Further series ordered aired in 2014 (10 episodes), 2015 (15 episodes), 2016 (10 episodes), 2017 (15 episodes), 2018 (10 episodes), and 2019 (10 episodes).


Father Brown, as he appeared in volume 13 of Case Closed
  • Father Brown was highlighted in volume 13 of the Case Closed manga's edition of "Gosho Aoyama's Mystery Library", a section of the graphic novels where the author introduces a different detective (or occasionally, a villain) from mystery literature, television, or other media.


  • Ignatius Press[24] published the audio book version of The Innocence of Father Brown in 2008. The book is read by actor and Theater of the Word Inc. founder Kevin O'Brien[25] and features introductions to each story written and read by Dale Ahlquist,[26] president of the American Chesterton Society. The book was a winner of the 2009 Foreword Audio Book Awards.[27]

Other references[edit]

In Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, a quote from "The Queer Feet" is an important element of the structure and theme of the book. Father Brown speaks this line after catching a criminal, hearing his confession and letting him go: "I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread." Book Three of Brideshead Revisited is called "A Twitch Upon the Thread" and the quotation acts as a metaphor for the operation of grace in the characters' lives. They are free to wander the world according to their free will until they are ready and receptive to God's grace, at which point he acts in their lives and effects a conversion. In the miniseries made by Granada Television adapting Brideshead, the character Lady Marchmain (Claire Bloom) reads this passage aloud.

In the mobile game Fate/Grand Order, in an effort to thwart James Moriarty after his own defeat of Sherlock Holmes, the characters summon up a number of "Phantom Spirits" of fictional detectives that were inspired by or followed after Holmes. The first to appear is a shadowy spirit described simply as "Round-Faced Priest", with the outline and vague features closely resembling the appearance of Father Brown in the Case Closed appearance.

Compilation books[edit]

  • Most collections purporting to be The Complete Father Brown reprint the five compilations, but omit one or more of the uncollected stories. Penguin Classics' 2012 edition (ISBN 9780141193854) is the only truly complete one, including 'The Donnington Affair', 'The Vampire of the Village' and 'The Mask of Midas'.
  • The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, vols. 12 and 13, reprint all the stories including the three not included in the five collections published during Chesterton's lifetime.


  1. ^ Chesterton also made 19 illustrations of the Sherlock Holmes stories, then not published and printed for the first time in 2003.[6]


  1. ^ a b Rosemary., Herbert (1 January 2003). Whodunit? : a who's who in crime & mystery writing. Oxford University Press. pp. 24. ISBN 0195157613. OCLC 252700230.
  2. ^ Chesterton, G.K (1987). Smith, Marie (ed.). Thirteen Detectives. London: Xanadu. ISBN 0-947761-23-3.
  3. ^ LeRoy, Panek (1987), An Introduction to the Detective Story, Bowling Green: Bowling Green State Univ. Popular Press, pp. 105–6.
  4. ^ Ker, Ian (2011). G. K. Chesterton: A Biography. Oxford University Press. p. 283. ISBN 9780199601288.
  5. ^ Chesterton, G. K. (1 July 2011). "Errors about Detective Stories". The Chesterton Review. 37: 15–18. doi:10.5840/chesterton2011371/23.
  6. ^ G. K. Chesterton's Sherlock Holmes. Baker Street Productions. 2003..
  7. ^ Gramsci, Antonio (2011). Letters from Prison. 1. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 354. ISBN 978-0-231-07553-4. Conan Doyle believed he had been knighted for political propaganda work.
  8. ^ Peterson, John (2011). The Return of Father Brown. ACS Books. ISBN 978-0-9744495-1-7..
  9. ^ "Il destino di padre Brown - Paolo Gulisano - Libro - SugarCo - Narrativa | IBS". www.ibs.it (in Italian). Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  10. ^ Cox, Jim (2002), Radio Crime Fighters, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, p. 9, ISBN 0-7864-1390-5.
  11. ^ "How Father Brown Led Sir Alec Guinness to the Church". Catholic culture. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  12. ^ Sutcliffe, Tom (7 August 2000). "Sir Alec Guinness obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 February 2007.
  13. ^ Hail devil man (29 December 1967). "Operazione San Pietro (1967)". IMDb.
  14. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924–1984: A Catalog of Over 1800 Shows. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0351-9.
  15. ^ "J.T. Turner". Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  16. ^ Chesterton, G. K, The Complete Father Brown Stories: Books 1–7, Classics, Starbooks.
  17. ^ A Walter 1 (23 April 1979). "Sanctuary of Fear (TV Movie 1979)". IMDb.
  18. ^ "Ralph McInerny". The Daily Telegraph. London. 18 February 2010.
  19. ^ "EWTN". Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  20. ^ "Theater of the Word, Inc. (TV Series 2009– )". IMDb.
  21. ^ "Kevin O'Brien". IMDb.
  22. ^ "Frank C. Turner". IMDb.
  23. ^ Eames, Tom (22 June 2012). "'Harry Potter' Mark Williams cast in BBC drama 'Father Brown'". Digital Spy. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  24. ^ "Ignatius Press". Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  25. ^ "The word". Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  26. ^ "Chesterton.org". Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  27. ^ "Books of the year awards". Retrieved 21 August 2014.


External links[edit]