Father Brown
(creator: Stephen Kendrick )

Stephen Kendrick

Father Brown, the little round Roman Catholic priest, much given to clever aphorisms, was, of course the first priest-detective and the invention of G K Chesterton. But it was Stephen Kendrick who decided to borrow him and invent a completely new story in which he meets up with Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

Rev Stephen Kendrick graduated from Princeton, earned a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School, and received an MFA in creative writing from the Hollins College Writing Program. He is the minister of First and Second (Unitarian Universalist) Church, Boston, and has previously served churches in Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, as well as Unitarian chapels in the West Midlands of England. He has written for The Christian Century, The Hartford Courant, and The New York Times. He has a particular interest in Sherlock Holmes, and is also the author of the non-fiction book, Holy Clues: The Gospel according to Sherlock Holmes. He lives in Boston with his partner (a social worker) and is "the happy father of Paul, Anna, and Elizabeth".

Night Watch (2002)
Night Watch is described as "a long-lost adventure in which Sherlock Holmes meets Father Brown". It is Christmas Day 1902 when an Anglican priest's mutilated body is found in a London church. He had been hosting a secret high-level interfaith meeting. The Archbishop of Canterbury had organised it after wondering "if it is at last time for religious people to stop fighting one another; that the real battle of the coming century will be people of all faiths striving against a growing tide of irreligion". The meeting has to be kept secret, though, because "several of the clergy represent faiths that publicly oppose such discussion". They include a Buddhist monk, an Indian Hindu, a Russian Orthodox priest, a Muslim imam, a German rabbi and a Roman Catholic cardinal - and it turns out that one of the participants must be the murderer. Such a group, says Holmes wryly, "eclipses anything a novelist could invent".

Sherlock Holmes had been summoned by his brother Mycroft, acting on behalf of no less a person than the Prime Minister, to solve the mystery. The body had been found by a young curate, one Father Brown, who was only there as assistant and translator for the elderly cardinal. He is described as "a small, rotund young man in his early twenties ... his long simple black cassock fell to his scuffed brown shoes. His spectacles, balanced halfway down his soft bulbous nose, glittered in the sharp light. This was a singularly unimpressive young man. whose blank gray eyes had a flat, glassy quality." He plays only a very small part in the story, but it is he who, right at the very end, tells an amazed Holmes who the murderer really is.

The author obviously had great fun writing this. He explains in the prologue, that it was Dr Watson who really wrote all the stories, with Conan Doyle just editing and polishing them for publication. And this was Holmes' very last case, after which he retired to "the bauty of the Sussex seaside farmland" and Dr Watson remarried.

Holmes himself, according to Kendrick, finds that "strangely enough, I am mellowing towards religion in later years .... The faith of crucifixes, stained glass, vestments, and all the paraphernalia of English faith - true, that realm of faith has no appeal to me. But oddly enough my year in Tibet and my exposure to Buddhism opened my eyes. The monks taught me to still my mind, and surprisingly, I found the rudimentary meditative techniques they gave me congenial to my austere temperament. And suddenly the religious trappings of a foreign faith made me a trifle more open to religion as a kind of visual poetry. a universal language."

Father Brown, of course, could not accept that "any and all faiths were equal paths to God." He argued that "God had forged a path to us, and that we were otherwise lost". He felt that Appel, the murdered priest, had gone badly wrong because he "had believed at heart God is not God but rather a nondescript energy, a spiritual power, which any and all world faiths could tap into, like you plugging into that electrical outlet out there. That's why he was so attracted to Eastern faiths, not because contact with such world religions is important, but because they are each essentially irrelevant .... No amount of well-intentioned discussion can change God from being the true God. Appel believed in mystery, in divine power. The church actually believes in God."

Holmes begins by writing Brown off, "I strongly suggest you get some sleep," he tells him, " and and look after your cardinal, and leave the deductions to me." But, right at the end, he has to admit to Watson, "Brown's a little genius, mark my words. I'm glad he's going to confine himself to the confessional, and not give me a run for my money".

It's all written with great good humor and there is quite a lot of dramatic action, even if the ending is not entirely convincing. The Holmesian world is well captured too, and there is a sense that, as the murderer eventually confesses to Father Brown, "The Lord works in mysterious ways, far more insidious and devious than the writers of the detective stories that I spotted you reading in private during our time at the conference". Recommended.



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Night Watch
The hardback cover fails to suggest the good humor with which the story is written.
Night Watch paperback cover
The softback cover may look a bit cluttered but much more successfully communicates the feeling of the book.
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