A little while ago, I was one of the people interviewed for a forthcoming BBC radio 4 programme about Father Brown, the legendary priest-detective created by G.K. Chesterton, and the real-life priest, Father O'Connor, who inspired Chesterton to dream up his character. If I'm brutally honest, I'm not absolutely sure why I qualified to be interviewed, as I can't claim to be an expert on Chesterton. So it may well be that I don't feature in the final edited version of the programme, but the experience has prompted me to look again at the Father Brown stories.
I was interviewed by the former minister Ann Widdecombe, who has now become something of a media celebrity (although I must admit I have never watched Strictly Come Dancing!) One of the points I made to her, which I'm not sure she found totaly interesting, was that, in writing about Father Brown, Chesterton used the short story form, not the novel form. I'm sure this was conscious decision on his part, and a wise one, since I don't think that the pungent, atmospheric and sometimes fantastical style of the stories would have worked if they had been much longer. Julian Symons made the point that the Father Brown stories are rather rich, and that to digest a large number of them in one sitting is too much to contemplate. I agree, but like Symons, I do admire both the character and many of the stories.
At the time he wrote about Father Brown, Chesterton regarded his detective stories as rather less significant than most of his other writing, for example on theology and politics. In fact (shades of Conan Doyle) he abandoned the character for years before returning to him, largely, it seems, for financial reasons. Yes I think it is safe to say that Chesterton is now better remembered for his contribution to the crime genre for anything else.
This isn't uncommon. GDH Cole and his wife Margaret regarded the detective stories as trivial in comparison to their work in the field of politics and economics. "Nicholas Blake" saw himself as a poet, first and foremost. And there are other examples. But popular fiction, and certainly detective fiction, can have a surprising longevity.