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Literature / Father Brown

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Alec Guinness as Father Brown

"The little priest was so much the essence of those Eastern flats; he had a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had several brown paper parcels, which he was quite incapable of collecting."

Father Brown is a detective series created by G. K. Chesterton. The protagonist is actually called Father J. Brown, though we are never told what the initial stands for, and is originally presented as the Roman Catholic parish priest of Cobhole in Essex, though he is found in parishes as far afield as Italy and South America. In appearance he is undistinguished, small and dumpy, short-sighted and doesn't look particularly intelligent; dressed in shabby clerical black, and carrying an umbrella as dumpy and shabby as himself.

The Father Brown mysteries generally appeared first as independent short stories in various magazines; (most of) the stories were eventually collected in a series of five books:

  • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)
  • The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914)
  • The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926)
  • The Secret of Father Brown (1927), and
  • The Scandal of Father Brown (1935).

Three stories, "The Donnington Affair" (1914) (GKC writing the solution of a mystery set up by Max Pemberton), "The Vampire of the Village" (1936), and "The Mask of Midas" (1936), were published separately, though the second of these was later included in editions of Scandal.

In 1934 a film version of Chesterton's priest based on "The Blue Cross"' appeared with the title Father Brown, Detective, with Walter Connelly in the title rôle. In 1954 Father Brown (U.S. title, The Detective) appeared with Alec Guinness as the eponymous priest. Heinz Rühmann played Father Brown in two German adaptations of Chesterton's stories, Das schwarze Schaf ("The Black Sheep") (1960) and Er kann's nicht lassen ("He Can't Stop Doing It") (1962). (The score to these, by Martin Böttcher, became very popular in Germany.) In 1970 an Italian television series entitled I racconti di padre Brown ("The Tales of Father Brown") starred the well-known Italian comedian Renato Rascel. In 1974, Kenneth More starred in a 13-episode Father Brown TV series, each episode dramatised from one of Chesterton's short stories, and generally considered the most faithful adaptation. In 1979, the TV move Sanctuary of Fear featured an American Father Brown (Barnard Hughes) sleuthing in contemporary New York City.. but the protagonist's only resemblances to Chesterton's character are his name and occupation. Andrew Sachs (of Fawlty Towers fame) played the character on BBC Radio from 1984 to 1986. A German television series, Pfarrer Braun ("Pastor Brown"), loosely based on the Chesterton character, was produced from 2003 to 2014; its title theme by Martin Böttcher is a Shout-Out to the one of the Heinz Rühmann films. A 2013 TV series produced by the BBC cast Mark Williams of The Fast Show and Harry Potter fame in the title role. The trope page for that show can be found here.

Tropes featured in this series include: (Note that the following examples are heavy on spoilers!)

  • Accidental Murder: Done in "The Three Tools of Death" and "The Fairy Tale of Father Brown".
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Never let it be said that the clergy don’t have a sense of humor. Father Brown finds the crimes of “The Strange Crime of John Boulnois” and “The Absence of Mr Glass” worthy of a good laugh, as they were just harmless pranks. Similarly, Professor Openshaw is able to see the funny side of "The Blast of the Book".
  • Actually, That's My Assistant: Invoked in "The Scandal of Father Brown".
  • All-Loving Hero: Father Brown, appropriately for a priest, has a deep sense of agape, spiritual love for all people. He recognizes human monsters when he sees them, but even more so, he recognizes people's capacity for goodness and redemption.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Father Brown. Technically all of his training is in theology; he just happens to have a keen insight into the criminal mind thanks to his experience listening to Confession.
    • And a keen insight into his own sinful nature. “You think a crime horrible because you imagine you could never commit it. I think a crime horrible because I know I could commit it.”
  • Ambiguous Situation: While Father Brown quickly deduces the true cause of the supposed curse in "The Salad of Colonel Cray", he never learns — nor does he think it matters much — whether Cray's enemy set up the scene in which he was cursed, or simply decided to take advantage of it.
  • Ambivalent Anglican: In "The Vampire of the Village", one retired village priest seems to be all over the place with regard to his beliefs. Father Brown (a Catholic priest) soon realizes that's because the man isn't actually a priest but an actor playing different stereotypes of priests as they'd appear on stage (The Vicar, the "Stop Having Fun" Guy, the Holier Than Thou type, etc.). Father Brown realises that the alleged vicar is an imposter because he shows elements of entirely incompatible factions of the Church of England, such as having an ornate crucifix in his study (Anglo-Catholic) while describing himself as a capital-P Puritan (very Low Church, to the point of possibly being too protestant to be in the C of E at all). Brown comments that "the English know nothing about the Church of England". Not coincidentally, G K Chesterton was a Roman Catholic who had his own reasons for mocking the C of E.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Naturally, as he is a priest.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: In "The Resurrection of Father Brown".
  • Babies Ever After: Flambeau and his Spanish Lady produced a large and very domestic brood of children.
  • Bad Habits: Used, probably coincidentally, as Book Ends in the first and last stories.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid:
    • Taken down with extreme prejudice in Father Brown's very first story, "The Blue Cross".
      "...But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren't a priest."
      "What?" asked the thief, almost gaping.
      "You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology."
    • From the same story: "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?"
    • On a couple of occasions, Father Brown essentially states that he knows a certain mysterious occurrence was not Black Magic because he knows what Black Magic looks like and [whatever mysterious occurrence they're discussing] does not fit the signs.
    • According to Father Brown ("The Miracle of Moon Crescent"), it's not belief that makes you stupid but not knowing what and why you actually believe in...
      "Don't think I blame you for jumping to preternatural conclusions. The reason's very simple, really. You all swore you were hard-shelled materialists; and as a matter of fact you were all balanced on the very edge of belief — of belief in almost anything. There are thousands balanced on it today; but it's a sharp, uncomfortable edge to sit on. You won't rest till you believe something; that's why Mr. Vandam went through new religions with a tooth-comb, and Mr. Alboin quotes Scripture for his religion of breathing exercises, and Mr. Fenner grumbles at the very God he denies. That's where you all split; it's natural to believe in the supernatural. It never feels natural to accept only natural things."
    • ...or, to put it more concisely and up to inverting the trope, as Father Brown does in "The Oracle of the Dog",
      "The first effect of not believing in God, is that you lose your common sense."
  • Beneath Notice:
    • In "The Invisible Man," a man is murdered and witnesses say they saw nobody. Father Brown figures out that the murderer was a postman, and the witnesses didn't pay any attention to him.
    • In "The Queer Feet", which Flambeau infiltrates a high-class party in black tie. When he's at the table, he behaves like a waiter (causing the guests to pay no attention to him), but when he's away from the table, he instead behaves like a guest (so the waiters, who are familiar with each other, don't find him out).
  • Berserk Button: Father Brown has an almost saintly level of patience when it comes to just about any character flaw. However, even he has buttons that ought not be pressed. A major button is hypocrisy - in The Arrow of Heaven and The Chief Mourner of Marne, he gives an impassioned "Reason You Suck" Speech to two different groups of people for following double standards: in one story a murderer was approved and then considered to be let off, and in the other story a murderer was forgiven and later on condemned and reviled.
  • Best Served Cold: Sir Arthur Vaudrey, from "The Vanishing of Vaudrey", works on this. An Egyptian official in his hearing compared Englishmen with pigs; years later when the official came to England on a visit, Vaudrey broke his arm and leg and threw him into a pigsty for a night. When his fiancé heard about it, she broke off their engagement; he planned to set her up with John Dalmon, a man who had committed a murder years back, and then have him arrested and executed for the crime. He was murdered by Dalmon before the marriage could take effect.
  • Blue Blood: Despite GKC's very commonly expressed dislike of aristocratic systems of government, his work abounds in noblemen, both sympathetic and unsympathetic, e.g., in "The Purple Wig." Some of them are even of real aristocratic lineage, too.
  • Bookcase Passage: The old manor house in "The Doom of the Darnaways" has one, which Father Brown discovers after noticing that the fake books on that shelf all refer to myths and hoaxes. Lampshaded, with him feeling obliged to apologize for the fact that his solution to the mystery features such a cliché.
  • Book Ends: One collection has the first story, "The Secret of Father Brown" and the last story, "The Secret of Flambeau", as two halves of the same story.
  • Cain and Abel: Used in "The Hammer of God" and "The Sins of Prince Seradine", and a sister version in "The Eye of Apollo". In the first two cases it's the overly antagonistic sibling that's killed by the quieter but more vindictive sibling; the third case downplays it as while the quiet sister is involved, all she did was to trick the victim out of writing a will that would've left everything to the murderer.
  • Call-Back: "The Secret of Father Brown" mentions cases Brown has already solved: specifically, The Man With Two Beards, The Ghost of Gideon Wise, The Arrow of Heaven, The Mirror of the Magistrate and the Vanishing of Vaudrey.
  • Clark Kenting: Done in "The Duel of Dr Hirsch". While the trick fools almost everyone, Father Brown sees through it because it's done too well: two opposing personas, one who refused to see the other, had to be part of a masquerade.
    • In The Queer Feet, the criminal goes from being seen as a hotel guest to a hotel waiter by changing only his posture and mannerisms.
  • Clock Punk: In "The Invisible Man", one character is an inventor who's made millions from home automation - in the form of human-sized clockwork robots.
  • Church of Saint Genericus: Subverted in "The Vampire of the Village", in which Father Brown realises that a purported clergyman is a fake because he shows characteristics of multiple incompatible Christian denominations.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: A character with red hair is almost always Good in Chesterton. Less frequently, blond hair is evil — especially if the blondness looks somehow artificial ("gilded").
  • Confessional: Is very often Father Brown's goal for the criminals he detects. He also claims that it is the source of his uncanny insight into the criminal mind:
    "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?"
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Done in "The Man in the Passage". An actress keeping her marriage secret is a common practice, but she attracted so many unknowing suitors for her hand in marriage that her husband finally cracked and killed her in a fit of jealousy. Made worse by the fact that the victim had sent for Father Brown precisely to help with their marital problems; the priest laments that he was barely too late to save her life.
  • Creepy Cathedral: In "The Hammer of God", though it's technically just a church. Father Brown implies that it was the practice of praying at the great height and literally looking down on everybody else which made the murderer susceptible to the thoughts of his own infallibility and a right to kill — appropriately enough, with Death from Above.
  • Criminal Mind Games: "The Insoluble Problem". The villain sets up a fake murder laced with contradictory clues to distract the detectives while he carries out a jewel robbery elsewhere.
  • Dead Person Impersonation:
    • In one story, the murderer almost gets away by putting on a bathrobe and pretending to be the man Father Brown was trying to find.
    • In another, the murderer pretends to be his victim, blatantly displays his victim's corpse (disguised as someone else's), fakes 'his' suicide, and gets away.
    • In yet another, someone in a duel pretends to die, later shoots his antagonist, and to avoid detection pretends to be that antagonist, shutting himself away out of guilt.
  • Deal with the Devil: Invoked in "The Dagger With Wings."
  • Deadly Book: "The Blast Of The Book" revolves around a book that is reported to drive anyone who reads even a few words of it to self-destruction.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Father Brown, though a very kindly one.
    "A brilliant piece of rapid deduction, but had he got a gun? I’ve been told a bullet is not half so useful without it."
  • Decoy Protagonist: Valentin, introduced as the protagonist in the first short story; returns as the protagonist for the second short story, and commits suicide at the end of the same story.
  • Depth Deception: Referenced in "The Song of the Flying Fish."
  • Disease by Any Other Name: The title character in "The Honour of Israel Gow" — he is described within the story by other characters as of limited intellect, but what we see of him suggests that his intelligence is pretty normal, and his intense, if eccentric, sense of honesty, literal-mindedness, and taciturnity suggest to a modern reader that he's autistic in some way.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Sir Arthur Vaudrey was fond of this, which is what got him killed in "The Vanishing of Vaudrey".
  • Driven to Suicide: The murderer commits suicide rather than submit to arrest in "The Secret Garden": "...and on the blind face of the suicide was more than the pride of Cato." note 
    • It happens in a lot of Father Brown stories actually, when a murderer is exposed.
  • Duel to the Death: Played straight in "The Sins of Prince Saradine" and "The Chief Mourner of Marne".
    • Invoked in "The Duel of Dr. Hirsch," but doesn't happen, since it was just a publicity scheme.
  • Easily Forgiven: Discussed in "The Chief Mourner of Marne". A penitent murderer's close associates wished to forgive him for his crime, but they only knew half the story; once the full details of his crime were disclosed they were more than willing to abandon him and let him suffer. Father Brown himself notes that sin is something that damages the sinner too, and that the more indefensible the sin, the more forgiveness is needed.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: In "The Honour of Israel Gow", Father Brown is uncharacteristically stumped, until a chance remark by Flambeau shows him what he's overlooked.
  • Everyone Has Standards: At the conclusion of "The Crime of the Communist", Father Brown is scathing about the notion that the man who was framed for the murder might have accidentally revealed the plot by using the poisoned matches that had just been planted on him. Just because he was a Communist who wanted to overthrow Church and State in a bloody revolution, that didn't mean he was so bereft of standards as to start smoking before he'd finished drinking his port!
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Defied in The Flying Stars; Father Brown gives a lengthy lecture to Flambeau after he leaves an innocent patsy to take the fall for his latest theft, insisting that it's only a matter of time before the latter descends into worse and worse villainy. Father Brown's lurid description of "honest" criminals who eventually became deadbeats and madmen apparently scares Flambeau straight, as thereafter he has completely given up his criminal ways.
    • A general theme of the stories is that the true distinction between criminals is not the nature of their crime, but rather their willingness to repent. Moveover, the assumption that some crimes are better than others quickly leads to hypocrisy, or worse, Slowly Slipping Into Evil.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: "The Arrow of Heaven" is a good example.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Invoked in "The Oracle of the Dog" and ultimately subverted as the dog didn't detect any evil, but was just annoyed by a stick that didn't behave as it should - which turned out to be a murder weapon..
  • Evil Is Petty: Father Brown considers that most criminals and villains apply to this, as all their desires are on their own gain (robberies, vendettas).
    • Brown never really encountered any real high-minded antagonists in his history. the closest was Kalon in the Eye of Apollo and even then he was proven to be a conman.
  • Evil Twin: In the story "The Sins of Prince Seradine". Curiously, both brothers, Paul and Stephen are evil, so it's a tale about a bad brother and a worse brother.
  • Exact Words: Father Brown says what he means and sees, but people have a habit of misinterpreting his words. He notes this happens a lot with him in "The Quick One".
    • In "The Chief Mourner of Marne", Father Brown asks General Outram if he knows more about the history of the Marquis of Marne than he's already said. The General replies "I cannot tell you any more". Father Brown notes that this isn't the same thing, and points out the General would have no patience with a priest who equivocated like that.
    • "The Honour of Israel Gow": The title character was promised "all the gold of Glengyle" castle. As an honest man, he takes everything that's gold but leaves everything that isn't, e.g. he takes the gold snuff boxes because they were supposed to be his, but leaves behind the snuff inside them, because no one said he could take that.
  • Excellent Judge of Character: Father Brown has a deep experience and understanding of people, and is able to use this to acquire accurate character profiles and their actions.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Happens twice in "The Arrow of Heaven", after Merton is murdered with an arrow, while in an upper room of his fortified mansion. Father Brown interviews Crake and then Captain Wain. Both of them are happy to talk about their area of expertise, then react harshly as they realize partway through that they're actually describing how they could have committed the murder.note  Father Brown takes this reaction as strong evidence of both men's innocence. The real murderer would have been far more paranoid about incriminating himself in a conversation, and would be expected to either talk about any subject adjacent to the murder as little as possible, or to feign innocence and overcorrect by talking about those subjects for too long.
  • Fairy Tale: As in "The Fairy Tale of Father Brown."
  • The Fair Folk: Invoked in "The Sins of Prince Saradine"
  • Fake Brit: In-universe, Kalon in "The Eye of Apollo".
  • First-Episode Twist:
    • "The Blue Cross" introduces Valentin, the head of the French police who is The Ace, and Flambeau, an arch-criminal, with Father Brown only coming in and being revealed as the actual hero toward the end. Of course, nowadays, since the story is found in anthologies titled The Innocence of Father Brown and The Father Brown Omnibus, and not The Valentin Omnibus, the actual protagonist's identity is a Late-Arrival Spoiler.
    • Having read "The Blue Cross", the reader would be justified in thinking that Valentin would act as Father Brown's Inspector Lestrade Friend on the Force, with Flambeau as the Moriarty of the series. However, "The Secret Garden" has Valentin Driven to Suicide after a Face–Heel Turn.
    • With a Heel–Face Turn during "The Flying Stars", and beginning with "The Invisible Man, Flambeau turns from an arch-criminal to play the Watson to Father Brown's Holmes.
  • The Gambling Addict: Father Brown describes the criminal in "The Oracle of the Dog" as this: he was desperate for money to clear his gambling debts, but he didn't know if the money would come to him, and it didn't. Rather than commit a honest murder of a rich relative he saw it as a risk a real gambler should try to win.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Reasonably enough, as all of the stories were written between 1910 and 1936.
  • Gentleman Thief: Flambeau is an example. Deconstructed in "The Flying Stars", in which Father Brown points out that he has left an innocent person to be blamed for the crime he committed, and persuades him that it's impossible to remain a honourable outlaw without Slowly Slipping Into Evil.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: Suggested as a solution to the mystery in "The Flying Fish".
  • Gold Digger: The trope appears in "The Green Man", concerning two murder suspects who were courting the daughter of the victim, a rich admiral. Upon learning that the admiral is destitute, one suspect flees while the other suspect rushes to marry the daughter. Interestingly, Father Brown affords more sympathy to the fleeing suspect, who he considers merely misguided in his ambition of marrying money, while he considers the other suspect an overly proud man who didn't want to have a rich wife that can discredit his career.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: What happened to Wilfred Bohun in "The Hammer of God".
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Regularly invoked by Father Brown himself.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Brown, a reflection of GK Chesterton's Catholic faith, in literary form.
  • Go Out with a Smile: "The Vanishing of Vaudrey" has Sir Arthur Vaudrey found with his throat cut, and a pleasant smile on his face. Justified as he was killed in a barbershop, a place where a razor can be wielded with full trust, and he was unawares at the time of it happening.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Very common, helping to spread round the motive for murder, as in "The Man in the Passage."
  • Happily Married: Very common in Chesterton — no doubt reflecting his own happy marriage. One example is Flambeau and his wife in The Secret of Father Brown.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Father Brown refers to a lawyer's wig as an erection made of horse-hair on the top of his head, with little tails behind, and grey corkscrew curls at the side, like an Early Victorian old woman".
  • Heel–Face Turn: Flambeau, thief, repents and becomes a private detective.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Used in several stories, notably "The Invisible Man."
  • Hollywood Atheist: Aristide Valentin in "The Secret Garden". In the end it turns out he's not only this, but also Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist.
    • Many other examples. Atheists in Father Brown stories tend to be either confused and deluded or utterly amoral. Or both.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: "The Miracle of Moon Crescent" has an industrialist who came across three beggars and divided them up on spontaneous analysis: one became his assistant, one became a clerk and one was put in an institution. They were best friends, and were so offended by this act that they killed him in revenge.
  • Humble Hero: Father Brown, as seen in "The Resurrection of Father Brown": he realized his death/revival was part of a fantasy scam and was quick to expose it, when any fairly normal person would have been swayed by the glory and profit of such a venture.
  • Hypocrite: As, for instance, in "The Ghost of Gideon Wise."
  • Identical Grandson: In "The Doom of the Darnaways", the newly-discovered Darnaway heir bears such a striking resemblance to an old portrait that another character suspects he's deliberately modeled his appearance on it. Father Brown suspects a much simpler explanation — it's the portrait that has been made to resemble the man.
  • Idiot Houdini: Deliberately invoked in "The Hammer of God". A murderer has three suspects to pin his killing on: a husband, a wife and a village idiot. He picks the idiot believing his condition qualifies him, and will let him off. Father Brown points out that this reflects positively on him since he chose someone who wouldn't suffer for the accusation.
  • If Jesus, Then Aliens: Defied. Father Brown is quite devout, but doesn't believe in anything supernatural at first sight, and is very quick to correct those who attempt to use this logic themselves. Multiple mysteries are mistaken for miracles, curses or what have you, and Brown is usually there to prove that they are quite mundane and staged to look supernatural. As he said in "The Miracle of Moon Crescent",
    "Yes," answered Father Brown, "I believe in miracles. I believe in man-eating tigers, but I don't see them running about everywhere. If I want any miracles, I know where to get them."
    • There is exactly one case where this gets played straight: In "The Honor of Israel Gow", Father Brown sees that a collection of sacred documents have been defaced in a very specific and ritualistic fashion (every time the name of God or a saint's halo appears, it has been cut away while leaving everything else intact), and diagnoses Black Magic. In fact, the explanation turns out to have been the titular character's Literal-Minded nature (He interpreted the will leaving him "all the gold of the Ogilvies" as "every scrap of gold in the house, including the gold leaf used for haloes and the name of God in the old manuscripts, and absolutely nothing else.)
    • In fact, in "The Resurrection of Father Brown", this tendency results in Father Brown unwittingly foiling the villain's scheme before he's even figured out what the scheme is. The anti-clerical journalist Snaith arranges for a fake miracle—the apparent death and resurrection of Father Brown—to occur, so that he can later expose the apparent miracle as a sham and discredit Father Brown. However, this plan hinges on Father Brown himself believing these events miraculous, or at least playing along with everyone else who calls it a miracle. Instead, upon waking up, Father Brown immediately tries to convince all the witnesses that nothing miraculous happened—and failing that, he sends a telegram to the bishop, advising him to ignore all reports of a miracle from this town.
  • Impoverished Patrician: In "The Doom of the Darnaways", the Darnaways are an aristocratic family of ancient lineage reduced to living in the still-habitable portions of a half-ruined house.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Done remarkably subtly in "The Green Man". The victim, a seaman returning from the long-distance sea travel, was found dead in a pool. However, when the murderer was told that the victim had drowned, he immediately asked where the body was found — though the logical conclusion would be that the seaman had drowned at sea and thus his body was never recovered.
  • In Medias Res: "The Eye of Apollo," which begins with Father Brown confronting Kalon before the reader even knows a murder has happened.
  • Incriminating Indifference: Father Brown invokes this on Flambeau in "The Blue Cross", pointing out that a man generally makes a small scene when he notices a discrepancy, like salt instead of sugar in his coffee. If a man keeps quiet despite the discrepancy, he has some reason to try to keep a low profile.
    "Well, I wasn't sure you were a thief, and it would never do to make a scandal against one of our own clergy. So I just tested you to see if anything would make you show yourself. A man generally makes a small scene if he finds salt in his coffee; if he doesn't, he has some reason for keeping quiet. I changed the salt and sugar, and you kept quiet. A man generally objects if his bill is three times too big. If he pays it, he has some motive for passing unnoticed. I altered your bill, and you paid it."
  • Innocent Means Naïve: Subverted in "The Blue Cross", where professional thief Flambeau is shocked he has been outmaneuvered by a parish priest who knows more about crime than he does.
    "...We can't help being priests. People come and tell us these things."
    "...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?..."
  • Inspiring Sermon: In "The Flying Stars", Father Brown delivers a sermon to Flambeau, deconstructing the latter's Lovable Rogue image of himself and warning him about the inevitable danger of Slowly Slipping Into Evil. After that sermon, Flambeau (a hardened and very intelligent criminal who had evaded capture for years) makes a Heel–Face Turn and becomes Father Brown's best friend.
  • Interdisciplinary Sleuth: Father Brown is, as the name would imply, a priest as well as a detective.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Not a positive example. He observed Father Brown helping a woman run from an ugly man with a handsome one and, assuming it's a typical Ugly Guy, Hot Wife scenario, immediately sent a story about how a priest broke a sacred marriage, ruining his reputation. The ugly one was the lover.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Detective Valentin. In his first appearance, in "The Blue Cross", he's an atheist but comes to respect Father Brown's intellect. The story appears to set him up to be The Watson in future stories. In his second appearance, in "The Secret Garden", he's the murderer: his raging atheism makes him kill to prevent a large donation to the Church. And he commits suicide, rather than submitting to arrest.
  • Karma Houdini: An unusual variation: Father Brown lets criminals go off rather easily, even though some have done terrible deeds. He leaves justice to Heaven rather than human law, and believes that sinners can never be really happy with their deeds and deserve to be saved rather than punished.
  • Large Ham: The prosecutor in "The Mirror of the Magistrate". Father Brown lampshades that being a murderer, he has good reason to rant about executing an innocent man.
    "Yes," he cried in a vibrating voice, "my learned friend is perfectly right! We do not know the exact reason why this honourable public servant was murdered. We shall not know the reason why the next public servant is murdered. If my learned friend himself falls a victim to his eminence, and the hatred which the hellish powers of destruction feel for the guardians of law, he will be murdered, and he will not know the reason. Half the decent people in this court will be butchered in their beds, and we shall not know the reason. And we shall never know the reason and never arrest the massacre, until it has depopulated our country, so long as the defence is permitted to stop all proceedings with this stale tag about 'motive,' when every other fact in the case, every glaring incongruity, every gaping silence, tells us that we stand in the presence of Cain."
  • Last Request: In the second story, it's because Father Brown got one at a deathbed that he's in the place where he deduces the crime.
  • Let Off by the Detective: Flambeau, most notably, which precipitates his Heel–Face Turn. But it happens often, because Father Brown, as a priest, is much more interested in confession and repentance than in punishment.
  • Literal Metaphor: The rhyme "As sap to the simmer trees/Is red gold to the Ogilvies" didn't just mean that the Ogilvies were misers. It also meant that they had an obsession with hoarding literal, elemental, gold.
  • Literal-Minded: The probably-autistic title character in "The Honour of Israel Gow". The various bizarre and apparently sinister events of the story turn out to be because of Gow's literal and scrupulously honest interpretation of his equally-eccentric dead employer's dying wish for Gow to inherit all his gold — which Gow interpreted as "every scrap of gold in the house and nothing else".
  • Mad Artist: Played seriously in "The Actor and the Alibi", where an actress murders her stage manager husband and makes off with a young actor for fame and glory, and deconstructed in “The Mirror of the Magistrate” where an artist’s eccentric behaviour makes him a suspect in a murder.
  • Malicious Slander: Father Brown was a victim of this in "Scandal".
  • Meaningful Name: Hypatia in The Scandal of Father Brown. It’s not the first time there is a controversy concerning a man of the Church in connection with a lady named Hypatia.
    • Ironically, the same story deconstructs the trope, with Father Brown pointing out that handsome businessmen do possess ordinary names.
  • Mistaken for Servant: Used in at least two of the stories, "The Queer Feet" and "The Strange Crime of John Boulnois."
  • Mondegreen Gag: In "The Absence of Mr. Glass", Mr. Glass does not exist. What Todhunter, a stage magician in training, really said (while practicing juggling) was, "...Two, three—Missed a glass."
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Discussed in-universe in "The Sign of the Broken Sword". Being a greedy and corrupted traitor? Not okay. Killing the one who found out about that? Real bad. Leading the whole regiment in a pointlessly suicidal attack so that the deceased would be lost in a field of corpses? There we go.
    • Deconstructed in "The Chief Mourner of Marne": while the other characters are insisting that a character's crime — Playing Possum in a duel in order to murder his own brother — is absolutely unforgivable, Father Brown reminds them that from a Christian point of view there is no such thing as an unforgivable crime.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: "The Sign of the Broken Sword":
    Where would a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. If there were no forest, he would make a forest. And if he wished to hide a dead leaf, he would make a dead forest.
  • Never Found the Body: Done in many stories, most notably "The Point of a Pin".
    "The body is the chief witness in every murder. The hiding of the body, nine times out of ten, is the practical problem to be solved.”"
  • Never Suicide: "The Three Tools of Death". It's actually inverted, as Sir Aaron Armstrong really commits suicide even though everyone thinks it's murder.
  • Nice to the Waiter:
    • "The Actor and the Alibi".
    • Used in a much lighter fashion in "The Blast of the Book".
  • No Antagonist: A few stories turn out to be this
    • The Honour of Israel Gow: The servant removing his masters' head before his burial and apparently defacing hymn books? He was led to believe he'd been left all his master's gold (and nothing else) and was merely removing the gold tooth and gold plates from the hymn books
    • The Three Tools of Death: Nearly everyone concerned with the death of Aaron Armstrong is convinced someone else was responsible for his death, but it turns out to be a suicide.
    • The Absence of Mr Glass: Blood on a sword? A strange high pitched voice? Broken glass? A man tied and gagged? No sinister goings on here; just a man training to be a stage magician with skills in sword swallowing, juggling and ventriloquism.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Well, OSHA wasn't actually in the picture, but the lifts in The Eye of Apollo are silent, fast, and have no doors to close when the lift is on another floor. It's really no wonder that an accident occurred. Or rather, a murder — Kalon took advantage of this to lure Pauline Stacy into falling down the elevator shaft.
  • Obfuscating Postmortem Wounds:
    • In "The Secret Garden", a beheaded body is further desecrated by several strange cuts about the severed neck. As Father Brown explains in the end, "It was done to make you take for granted that the head belonged to the body."
    • In "The Insoluble Problem", Tyrone's accomplices both hang and stab an already-dead body (the man had actually died of old age) as part of a scheme to create a false crime complex and confusing enough to keep Flambeau and Father Brown busy while Tyrone pulls off a jewel theft.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Father Brown appears to be a simple, not-too-bright parish priest at first glance, and sometimes plays this up to get criminals to drop their guard around him.
    • "The Blue Cross" has Father Brown travelling with another priest. Among other things, Father Brown throws half a cup of soup at the wall of a restaurant and breaks a window with his umbrella, even leaving an extra bit of money behind to pay for the broken window. He does this so that Valentin hears about these strange events and follows him because noted thief Flambeau is masquerading as a priest walking with him and he wants to make sure the detective took notice.
  • Off with His Head!: "The Secret Garden".
  • Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Twelve True Fishermen in The Queer Feet veer between this and Brotherhood of Funny Hats - on the surface they're a group of aristocrats engaging in pointless rituals, but their conversation is "that strange, slight talk which governs the British Empire, which governs it in secret, and yet would scarcely enlighten an ordinary Englishman even if he could overhear it."
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: it is only with "The Secret of Father Brown" (the short story within the book of the same name) that we learn that Flambeau is just a nome de guerre, with his actual name being Duroc.
  • Orgy of Evidence: In The Three Tools of Death, Patrick Royce the secretary of campaigner for abstinence Sir Aaron Armstrong confesses to his murder after Armstrong disallowed the marriage of his daughter to him. Examing the crime scene though, Father Brown wonders why there are so many potential murder weapons there (a gun, a knife and a rope). [[Spoiler: It turns out that Armstrong was trying to commit suicide and had collected enough weapons to do so. Patrick Royce had tried to prevent his suicide by tying him up but his daughter had misunderstood and cut the ropes allowing him to jump through the window]]
  • Path of Inspiration: "The Eye of Apollo".
  • Pepper Sneeze: In "The Salad of Colonel Cray":
    • A key clue to the mystery is some unexplained sneezes heard near the scene of the crime. It is eventually explained that the criminal sneezed when throwing away to the dustbin the condiment rack (containing, among other things, a pepper pot) that could have been used to counter the action of the poison he was planning to use.
    • Also the explanation for why the assailant sneezed when shot at. The pepper pot in his pocket stopped the bullet.
  • Police Are Useless: A police detective complains about this trope in one story. He points out that while the police may not be as intuitively brilliant as the average fictional detective, they are not even shown as having the virtues they do have such as storing and sharing information.
  • Preemptive Apology: Used by Father Brown in "The Blue Cross".
    Waiter: The parson at the door he says all serene, 'Sorry to confuse your accounts, but it'll pay for the window.' 'What window?' I says. 'The one I'm going to break,' he says, and smashed that blessed pane with his umbrella.
  • Pull a Rabbit out of My Hat: In "The Absence of Mr. Glass," the hat found at the scene of the crime turns out to be a conjurer's prop rather than something to wear.
  • Revealing Cover-Up
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: In "The Absence of Mr. Glass", Dr Hood's original suggestion (based purely on his theories of racial characteristics) is that Mrs McNab is imagining a sinister explanation of what's probably quite a simple event. He's actually right, though not for any reason to do with Mrs McNab's race. Amusingly, when he actually gets to the crime scene, he promptly comes up with a sinister (and incorrect) explanation of his own.
  • The Roaring '20s: The stories in Incredulity covering Father Brown's visit to the United States tend this way (with, for instance, several mentions of Prohibition, all of them in the context of it being flouted).
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: While on the whole Father Brown is Team Enlightenment and is able to see through superstitions and supernatural hoaxes, these stories were set at the turn of the 20th century, in itself considered a romantic and idealistic time.
    • One story, "The Scandal of Father Brown", deconstructs the romantic tale of a love triangle with Father Brown pointing out that too much glamorizing of sin blurs morality.
  • Royal Blood: In "The Sins of Prince Saradine."
  • Ruritania: In "The Fairy Tale of Father Brown" there is the Teutonic "city and state of Heiligwaldenstein."
  • Sarcastic Confession: As in "The Worst Crime in the World."
  • Satchel Switcheroo: Used twice in "The Blue Cross".
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Almost all the stories seems to invoke supernatural elements, only for Father Brown to discover that they have perfectly mundane solutions, see Belief Makes You Stupid and If Jesus, Then Aliens.
  • Seen It All: The vast (even shocking) experience of GKC's friend Father John O'Connor so impressed him that he fictionalized the priest in the form of Father Brown, whose first story, "The Blue Cross," is based upon this trope.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target: One of the earliest examples (though the disguise is an intentionally provoked military battle rather than a serial killing) is "The Sign of the Broken Sword" (1911). In Father Brown's own words:
    Father Brown: Where would a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. If there were no forest, he would make a forest. And if he wished to hide a dead leaf, he would make a dead forest. And if a man had to hide a dead body, he would make a field of dead bodies to hide it in.
  • Sherlock Homage: Dr Hood in "The Absence of Mr. Glass" is a hyper-rational criminologist in the Sherlock Holmes mould, to the extent that the BBC radio adaptation makes him a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo of Holmes himself.
  • Sherlock Scan:
    • Subverted in "The Absence of Mr Glass", in which some characters involve a brilliant criminologist in a domestic case, where he concludes with a sinister and dramatic interpretation of some facts. Dramatic and totally false. The apparent killer is only a stage magician, so that the cards, the knives, the swords and the mysteriously large top hat have a very simple explanation. At the end of the tale, everyone (including the criminologist) is laughing.
    • In "The Honour of Israel Gow", the Father is asked to perform a scan on an odd set of trinkets left behind on the scene and produces six equally plausible but all mutually contradictory stories explaining their presence — none of which turns out to be correct.
  • Silly Rabbit, Romance Is for Kids!: At least, it's not for movie stars on their fifth marriages.
  • Silver Bullet: In "The Dagger With Wings".
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: In "The Flying Stars," when Father Brown gets a moment alone with the criminal, the priest explains that in his experience, "Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down." (The full monologue is on the trope's Quote page).
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Father Brown describes the criminal in "The Actor and the Alibi" as this: she was an ambitious actress who murdered her dull old-fashioned husband so that she could be free of him and seek a better career with a handsome uprising actor.
  • Spanner in the Works: Joan Stacey in "The Eye of Apollo" is this to Kalon's scheme to kill her older sister Pauline for her inheritance. Pauline was blind, and Joan filled her fountain pens with ink for her. However, she left a pen un-filled for Pauline to write her will (which would have left everything to Kalon) with. The pen ran out before the will could be finished, meaning that Kalon got nothing.
  • Spiritual Successor: Pfarrer Braun.
  • Stage Magician: In "The Absence of Mr Glass".
  • Stern Old Judge: Sir Borrow Donnington in "The Donnington Affair". Father Brown considers him a man who has never had or wanted to have more than one virtue: justice. He sent his son Southby to prison for stealing money from him, and when he found out it was actually his daughter Evelyn who did it he killed her.
  • Stepford Smiler: Aaron Armstrong being this is the whole point of "Three Tools of Death". Discussed In-Universe by Father Brown: "Why couldn't they let him weep a little, like his fathers before him? His plans stiffened, his views grew cold; behind that merry mask was the empty mind of the atheist." He committed suicide.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Being a preacher, Father Brown has a trick of projecting his voice at crucial moments — such as in "The Dagger with Wings", when he wants to be heard by the police he knows have the house surrounded.
    The priest only lifted his voice a little, but it sounded in every corner of the room like a bell.
  • Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome: Aristide Valentin in "The Secret Garden".
  • Sudden Name Change: Father Brown himself. "The Eye of Apollo" gives his name as "the Reverend J. Brown", whilst "The Sign of the Broken Sword" refers to him as Paul.
  • Suicide, Not Murder: Chesterton was most probably a Trope Maker.
    • The solution of "The Three Tools of Death". Unusually for this trope, the appearance of murder was entirely by chance and not by any malicious intent on anybody's part.
    • Used again in "The Strange Crime of John Boulnois", although in that case the suicidal person was intentionally trying to frame someone else.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Pauline Stacey's refusal to acknowledge her vision loss and commitment to Kalon's Church of Apollo, which has a rite of staring directly into the sun, causes her to go blind.
  • Take That!: A good one for the scientists in "The Fairy Tale of Father Brown":
    The deputation of distinguished geologists and mineralogists from Paris and Berlin were there in the most magnificent and appropriate dress, for there are no men who like wearing their decorations so much as the men of science — as anybody knows who has ever been to a soiree of the Royal Society.
  • Technology Marches On: One of the last Father Brown stories, "The Insoluble Problem", has Brown make a blunder because he couldn't recognize someone's voice on a phone. He prefers speaking directly to people rather than through a machine.
  • That's What I Would Do: Father Brown states that his insight into human nature enables him to solve mysteries this way, as mentioned in "The Secret of Flambeau"
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: In "The Sign of the Broken Sword".
  • Theory Tunnel Vision: Orion Hood in "The Absence of Mr Glass" attempts to explain the case, without meeting any of the people involved, based solely on his theories of racial characteristics. When he actually meets one of them, he decides his previous explanation wasn't correct — again, based entirely on her apparent race.
  • The Reveal: One of the bases of Mystery Fiction, of course.
  • The Unfair Sex: Provides a blind in "The Oracle of the Dog."
  • The Uriah Gambit:
    • In "The Sign of the Broken Sword."
    • Also a more unconventional version in "The Fairy Tale Of Father Brown". The greedy and paranoid Evil Overlord sneaks away in the dead of night to visit a local monk whom he suspects knows the location of a gold mine. The monk, who is the last of three brothers who led a successful resistance for some time, jumps the Evil Overlord and gags him with his own military sash, causing said Overlord to be shot by his own troops when he can't answer the challenge.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Alluded to in "The Oracle of the Dog" — "With your Citizen Riquetti you have puzzled Europe for ten days." Father Brown is referring to the infamous Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau, who abandoned his noble titles to become a leader in the French Revolution (thus became just plain Citizen Riqueti). He's alluding to the fact that one of the characters involved in the mystery is a French nobleman who abandoned his title and is just using his ordinary surname
  • To Know Him, I Must Become Him: Father Brown explains that this is his method for crime-solving in The Secret of Father Brown. (See also That's What I Would Do.)
  • Tomato in the Mirror: "The Man in the Passage". The mysterious figure glimpsed in the passage at the time of the murder was the witness's own reflection.
  • Trail of Bread Crumbs: Well, a trail of weird little pranks and vandalisms left in the wake of two priests in The Blue Cross. The one doing them wants to be followed by the police, the other priest isn't a priest...
  • Tricked to Death: Used to perform a nearly perfect murder. The murderer simply informs his (blind) lover that he is holding the elevator for her, then heads up a floor (the elevators are essentially silent), heads out onto his balcony where several hundred people can testify to his location, and waits for the lover to run into the now-empty elevator shaft.
  • A True Story in My Universe: It is mentioned in "The Resurrection of Father Brown" that an American journalist Saul Snaith arranged for publishing "a series of stories, like the stories of Sherlock Holmes" about Father Brown; however, it isn't exactly clear if they have anything to do with the actual stories we're reading.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Deconstructed in "The Scandal of Father Brown". Played seriously in “The Strange Crime of John Boulnois” and “The Man in the Passage” (the latter to tragic effect).
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Plays a major part in "The Man With Two Beards" and "The Donnington Affair".
  • Unfriendly Fire: The story "The Sign of the Broken Sword"
  • The Vicar: Invoked in-story by an impostor in "The Vampire of the Village". Only the Catholic Father Brown sees through him, since "the English know nothing about the Church of England."
  • The Watson:
    • Subverted with Valentin, who bows to Father Brown's intellect in "The Blue Cross", but then goes full-on Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist and then takes his own life in "The Secret Garden".
    • Played straight with Flambeau in many later stories.
  • Wham Line:
    • In "The Blue Cross", Valentin believes he has gone on a wild goose chase after two harmless, theology-debating clerics and is ready to creep away, when one of them says:
      "On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still find a notice-board, Thou shalt not steal."
    • In the third story, "Queer Feet". "I'm a priest, Monsieur Flambeau, and I'm ready to hear your confession."
    • In "The Chief Mourner of Marne": "It isn't Jim at all. It's Maurice!"
    • The Eye of Apollo: "Pauline Stacy was blind."
  • White Magic: Invoked, and debunked, in "The Dagger with Wings" — and re-invoked.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: In "The Resurrection of Father Brown."
  • The Wicked Stage: In one of the stories, Father Brown realizes that an alleged High Church Anglican is a fake when his poses are inconsistent; for instance, he's severe about acting, which is rather more Low Church.
  • Writer on Board: Father Brown is a fairly accurate mouthpiece for Chesterton's views.
  • You Just Told Me: In "The Arrow of Heaven", Father Brown talks to three people and gets them to explain how they could have committed a murder. He uses this to justify their innocence, because had they actually killed someone they'd be wary and tense about revealing their knowledge, even if they could act natural about it.
    • In "The Pursuit of Mr Blue", he encounters Muggleton, a detective who witnessed his own client's murder and disposal. He is deemed as a fool and failure, and alternately his account is seen as false (which makes him a suspect), but Brown defends him, reasoning that such an open account points to his innocence. The story ends with the body found, which vindicates Muggleton and Brown.