“I had murdered them all myself.”[1] G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown detective stories are unique in their search for human wrongdoing.  Sherlock Holmes fans are used to deductive reasoning: a scientific analysis, assessing problems from the outside, in.  Father Brown became the murderer because he was a murderer.  Chesterton’s sleuth, a Catholic priest, saw people as they were, from the inside, out.  “The secret is,” Father Brown advocates in the story The Secret of Father Brown, [Quote] “It was I who killed all those people. You see, I had murdered them all myself, so of course I knew how it was done.  I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully.  I had thought out exactly in what style or state of mind a man could really do it.  And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.”[2] [End Quote]

Some television programs today, however, are obsessed not with the killer’s motive but with evidence under a microscope.  Lawyers say that television shows like CSI have created juries who expect conclusive scientific evidence.  Strands of hair, carpet fibers, and DNA seem more important to jurors than seeing the human heart.  But Chesterton’s Father Brown offers a correction.  [Quote] “What do these men mean when they say criminology is a science?  They mean getting outside a man and studying him as if he were a gigantic insect.  I don’t try to get outside the man.  I am inside a man. I wait till I know I am inside a murderer, thinking his thoughts, wrestling with his passions; till I have bent myself into the posture of his hunched and peering hatred; till I see the world with his bloodshot and squinting eyes . . . to the pool of blood.  Till I am really a murderer. . . .”[3] [End Quote]

The CBS Jesse Stone movies agree with Chesterton’s Father Brown.  Flawed humanness is the mirror reflection greeting each viewer who watches Jesse Stone.  The dark mysteries should be expected coming from a student of what was once called “pulp fiction.”  The late Jesse Stone novelist Robert B. Parker held a doctorate in American Literature from Boston University.  Parker’s dissertation examined the taut, gritty crime dramas of Raymond Chandler, who popularized the private eye Phillip Marlowe.  Parker wrote stories known today as film noir or “dark film.”  Anyone who loves Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep or Fred MacMurry in Double Indemnity can identify with Parker’s Jesse Stone character.  Deeply hurt by his own alcoholism and world-weary from confronting evil, Jesse Stone brings justice to those who deserve it, reserving generous mercy for those who deserve better.  The audience roots for a flawed character because in him we see ourselves.  By reading stories and watching movies we can live in the skin of fictitious others.  Could it be that we are drawn to crime dramas and “whodunits” because we find in ourselves both victim and criminal?  For Moody Radio, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, personally seeking truth wherever it’s found.

Flaws. Moody Radio Commentary. Summer, 2010

Dr. Mark Eckel, Professor of Old Testament, Crossroads Bible College

[1] G. K. Chesterton, “The Secret of Father Brown,” The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton (Ignatius, 1986): 217.

[2] Ibid. 638.

[3] Ibid. 639-40.

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