G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories are some of the most original detective stories I’ve read. I didn’t always find them 100% plausible – sometimes the mysteries are solved with pure intuitive leaps that seem a tad too far-fetched – but there’s no denying they have an atmosphere and style all of their own, not to mention Father Brown himself, an unassuming, shrewd, empathetic, endearing character. My favourite passage from the entire series is the speech he gives to the thief Flambeau in The Flying Stars:
I want you to give them back, Flambeau, and I want you to give up this life. There is still youth and honour and humour in you; don’t fancy they will last in that trade. 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. Many a man I’ve known started like you to be an honest outlaw, a merry robber of the rich, and ended stamped into slime. I know the woods look very free behind you, Flambeau; I know that in a flash you could melt into them like a monkey. But someday you will be an old grey monkey, Flambeau. You will sit up in your free forest cold at heart and close to death, and the tree-tops will be very bare.