Father Brown: The Absence of Mr Glass

I continue my appreciation of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown with a story taken from the second volume, The Wisdom of Father Brown, originally published in 1914. I was inspired to include this one by Mack’s comments on my review of The Blue Cross – apparently it’s a popular choice with his students.

‘The Absence of Mr Glass’ is essentially a joke stretched into a short story. The butt of the joke is Dr Orion Hood, who is satirised mercilessly by Chesterton.

Dr Hood paced the length of his string of apartments, bounded — as the boys’ geographies say — on the east by the North Sea and on the west by the serried ranks of his sociological and criminologist library. He was clad in an artist’s velvet, but with none of an artist’s negligence; his hair was heavily shot with grey, but growing thick and healthy; his face was lean, but sanguine and expectant. Everything about him and his room indicated something at once rigid and restless, like that great northern sea by which (on pure principles of hygiene) he had built his home.

Hood is a great psychological and criminological expert (living in Scarborough…) who is regularly consulted by the authorities on matters of great importance. He is surprised but indulgent when the local parish priest drops into his consulting rooms to ask his advice about two young lovers. James Todhunter has fallen in love with young Maggie McNab, his landlady’s daughter, much against her mother’s wishes. For James has a secret he will not reveal until the wedding.

Hood is about to pronounce his verdict on the marriage when Maggie McNab barges in with the news that James may have been murdered, probably by a mysterious Mr Glass who has been seen prowling around.

“I know his name is Glass,” answered the girl, in great impatience. “I heard it through the door. They were quarrelling — about money, I think — for I heard James say again and again, ‘That’s right, Mr Glass,’ or ‘No, Mr Glass,’ and then, ‘Two or three, Mr Glass.’”

Rushing to help, Brown and Hood find Todhunter alive, but tied up in a corner of his rooms. Mr Glass is nowhere to be seen. Proceeding on strictly scientific principles, the expert has soon built up a picture of Mr Glass based on a top-hat and some broken spirit glasses:

…tall, elderly, fashionable, but somewhat frayed, certainly fond of play and strong waters, perhaps rather too fond of them. Mr Glass is a gentleman not unknown on the fringes of society.

It is a piece of ratiocination that Sherlock Holmes would be proud of, but obviously it is the more down-to-earth Father Brown who comes up with the real solution. The punchline will make you groan, but it is fun getting there.


About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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7 Responses to Father Brown: The Absence of Mr Glass

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Rich – Thanks for the well-done review. I’m glad you highlighted Chesterton’s sense of humour as I’ve always liked that about his work.


  2. You’re making me want to re-read this series, Rich. Are you going to read them all?


  3. Pingback: Father Brown: The Hammer of God | Past Offences

  4. mike foy says:

    I don’t thin Sherlock Holmes would have been proud of the piece of ratiocination in this story, since Dr Orion Hood, is SH in a thin disguise. GKC was having a bit of fun with ACD’s creation.
    I like this story and I love puns too, so it’s a double whammy for me.


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