The Complete Father Brown: Volume 2, by G.K. Chesterton
Having read the first volume of this selection, I was not surprised by the material that was found here and found that it followed the same lines in many cases. A reader who has done the same will likely be in the same position–it is unlikely that anyone will follow Caroline Bingley’s example in reading the second volume of a text because someone else is reading the first. And for those coming into this volume from having read previous Father Brown stories, one knows at least something of what to expect and will not be disappointed by Father Brown’s shrewd knowledge of human psychology, something he even explains to the reader at some points during these stories, as well as the pro-Catholic point of view expressed by the narrator and the focus on the secrets that people carry with them because of personal sins or political ambitions, some of which find their way into these stories as well. If Father Brown is not superstitious as some would take him for, he certainly does have at least some degree of sympathy although perhaps not to the extent or in the way that we would now expect, which can cause problems for contemporary readers.
This particular volume contains three books of Father Brown stories. We begin with the following stories from The Incredulity Of Father Brown: The Resurrection Of Father Brown, The Arrow Of Heaven, The Oracle Of The Dog, The Miracle Of Moon Crescent, The Curse Of The Golden Cross, The Dagger With Wings, The Doom Of The Darnaways, and The Ghost of Gideon Wise. After that we have the following stories from The Secret Of Father Brown: The Secret Of Father Brown, The Mirror Of The Magistrate, The Man With Two Beards, The Song Of The Flying Fish, The Actor And The Alibi, The Vanishing Of Vaudry, The Worst Crime In The World, The Chief Mourner Of Marne, and The Secret Of Flambeau. Finally, we have the following stories from The Scandal Of Father Brown: The Scandal Of Father Brown, The Quick One, The Blast Of The Book, The Green Man, The Pursuit Of Mr. Blue, The Crime Of The Communist, The Point Of A Pin, The Insoluble Problem, and The Vampire Of The Village. And with an odd and not particularly clear ending, the stories of Father Brown come to an end.
Indeed, it is rather telling to me as a reader at least that the Father Brown stories work, as they generally do, because of the ability of the fictional detective to look at life through the point of view of the people involved in whatever mystery he is solving, and this allows him to make appropriate logical conclusions as to how someone would deal with something or what motive would account for someone’s behavior, criminal or merely strange as it may be. Yet although Father Brown does have a high degree of professed ability to relate to European revolutionary poets or proud legal elites or romantic French thieves, there are limits to the sympathies of the author that appear to put strict limits on the ability of the character to fully empathize with people like blags (who are regularly called by the n-word here) or Jews. At one point, for example, Father Brown makes the fierce claim that Jews behaved blasphemously in medieval Europe with impunity and that it was far harder to be a Christian heretic who had a slightly different understanding of some esoteric point of doctrine. Our knowledge of the pogroms of the Middle Ages in Europe is unlikely to provide contemporary readers with the same degree of blithe confidence in the freedom of Jews to blaspheme the name of our Lord and Savior, but it does account for some of the tensions that exist between Jew and Christian in contemporary European and American society. Just as it is impossible for a sincere and conservative to avoid believing in something that Jews would consider anti-Semitic, it is probably the case that being a conservative and observant Jew would require being anti-Christian or anti-Muslim as well, and so on and so forth. How this is to be handled in a free society is a problem we still wrestle with today.