Short Story Review: The Oracle of the Dog by G.K. Chesterton

As one of my reading resolutions of 2019, I wanted to read more short stories (two a month at least), because I find so often I only end up reading longer books. And since I haven’t ever reviewed a short story on my blog, I though I’d reviewed this one.

I am a massive fan of G.K. Chesterton, though I haven’t read half as many of his books as I want to. Although he wrote many religious philosophy books, he also wrote a lot of short stories, some of them cozy murder mysteries. And, if you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll probably know of my obsession with cozy murder mysteries. Thus, I was super excited to read this one, starring Father Brown as our resident Hercule Poirot.

Also, if you’re curious to read this story yourself, it is available online for free here.

Release: 1926 (originally in a short story collection of Father Brown, I believe)

Synopsis: Father Brown’s young friend Fiennes comes to him with a problem. There has been a murder of the wealthy Colonel Druce and yet the room in which he was murdered was being watched by multiple people at the time of his death. And then there is the dog, who Fiennes has proclaimed barked ferociously at the victim’s secretary, as if the dog might be an oracle and know the true murderer.

Review

On the surface, this story is simply a light murder mystery with a twist ending, as readers have read multiple times from Agatha Christie and other brilliant mystery authors. But, below that, this story has a basic central theme. That we as humans often project our own assumptions unto animals, as well as unto other humans. In a sense, this story is an examination more of psychology than of murder, and I loved it for that. I’ve read dozens of short mystery stories, but none of them had me impressed as much as this one.

Fiennes comes to Father Brown firmly projecting his own assumptions unto the dog and other suspects. The dog barked at the secretary following the murder and thus Fiennes believes in superstition that that person must be the killer. And yet, Father Brown sees past it all, simply stating that the dog didn’t like the person nor the person like the dog. It is that simple, but because Fiennes wanted to believe something about the dog being an oracle, he made up this complex story in his mind.

Of course, the dog is an important part in solving the mystery, which I won’t get into too detailed because I don’t want to spoil the ending.

However, one of my favorite quotes in the story is said by Father Brown: “Sometimes you are too clever to understand men, especially when they act almost as simply as animals.”

Often times, we see people as how we want to see them, not as they are. It would be simple to say a murder is committed just on impulse, and yet wouldn’t it be nicer and more interesting if there was a complex motive and reasoning behind it? Wouldn’t it be interesting if a dog instinctually knew who the murderer was, even if it doesn’t seem really practical?

That is why this story is so brilliant, because it is so simplistic. In a sense, it is a parody of Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness and over mystery novels which seem to make things so much more complex than seems plausible in real life. It’s strange how a story as short as this had me thinking about everything I ever knew. That’s what I love about reading Chesterton.

Have you read this short story, or any other Father Brown story? Have you read anything by Chesterton? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

10 thoughts on “Short Story Review: The Oracle of the Dog by G.K. Chesterton

  1. I’ve heard of this series! I remember there are adaptations based on the novels. It seems a very interesting combination —— Father and detective religion and complicated humanity, and redemption and sin! I’ll check it out later! I love it when a detective novel focuses on psychology! Those that focus on complex plot are good, but they make mincemeat of my brain!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! It’s such an interesting combination. And yes, there are a lot of adaptations, though some of them portray Father Brown as opposite to his book counterpart. And I love the balance between psychology, humanity, and religion as well. It’s fascinating!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Chesterton, too! I started reading short stories when I had little children because it was a way to actually make it through a full story while having very little time to read. I’ve never read the Oracle of the Dog but I’m going to now…maybe even tonight!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I finally had some time to read it. It’s excellent! No surprise, since everything I’ve read of Chesterton’s is excellent. There are some very thought provoking lines in there. I want to reread it with the focus of underlining all of those great lines!

        Liked by 1 person

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