A Certain Dr. Thorndyke

certaindrthorndykeSuggested by Brad Nelson • This is really two books in one. Half the book is dedicated to the adventures of a Mr. Osmond who has come to Africa to hideout for a time. The other half of the book is Thorndyke’s investigation of a robbery of valuable jewels.
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42 Responses to A Certain Dr. Thorndyke

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Thank you to Timothy and/or Mr. Kung for recommending this book and this author.

    As the synopsis says, this is indeed two books in one. I probably enjoyed the first book about Mr. Osmond’s escape to Africa and his many perilous adventures there, including meeting a beautiful woman.

    But the two parts are connected. After a while we zoom back to England where Thorndyke is consulted regarding a jewel robbery. Oswald took off the day it was discovered that the jewels in the safe had been replaced by fake ones.Everyone rightfully assumed he was guilty. And maybe he was. You’ll have to read it. Even more mysterious was that along with the quite valuable jewels some semi-precious stones were replaced as well, the cost of replacement exceeding the worth of the original stones.

    The part of the book set in Africa is non-stop and lively. The detective part is a little dry. Thorndyke doesn’t have quite the compelling character of a, say, Sherlock Holmes. But I’ll definitely be reading another one of these.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished “The Red Thumb Mark” last night. First off, kudos to you guys here doing something tangible and recommending a good book (or series of books). I would have gotten nothing from it if someone had simply done some intellectual treatise on criminal investigations as portrayed in literature (not that yuze guys couldn’t make that interesting).

    In “The Red Thumb Mark” there’s sort of a dopey, old-fashioned love affair patched on. But it’s fine for what it is. It keeps you in suspense whether or not Thorndyke’s new apprentice is going to get screwed or, well, going to get screwed.

    Overall, the mystery was pretty good. It’s still a little dry for my taste. But I’ll definitely give the next one (“The Eye of Osiris”) a go.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Keep reading. There are many more.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I will, Mr. Kung. Does anyone know if a novel such as “The Red Thumb Mark” changed any attitudes towards the supposed inviolability of fingerprints? Or is this plot device simply grist for an interesting plot novel, few actual cases of (spoiler alert) forged signatures being of practical use to criminals?

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I doubt it had much effect. Doyle had a forged thumb mark as a key clue in “The Norwood Builder” — fortunately Holmes knew the mark had appeared well after the murder because he had observed the spot previously.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            That’s a good story, although I don’t think one of the better Jeremy Brett video adaptations. I’m pretty sure that’s the one with the guy who fakes his own death and then hides behind a false wall in his own home, right? Holmes then literally smokes him out.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I believe I’ve read (and enjoyed) both of those. (My recollection is that The Eye of Osiris features a weird will, and that Thorndyke largely figured out what was happening from reading news accounts — but it’s been a long time since I read them.) But I still recommend Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight, which has its own romantic aspect, as well as a delightful final encounter between Thorndyke and Pottermack.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Well, I have found Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight for free at Australia’s Gutenberg. I can easily enough convert this into an eBook. I probably will do so.

        Additional: Yes, the conversion worked very well. Anyone interested in the details of converting online text to a readable eBook, let me know.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I read the first three chapters of “Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight” last night. It’s a pretty good read so far. The one disappointing aspect is the sheer unlikelihood of the events leading up to (one suspects) the uncovering of the crime. What a wild coincidence that someone would have a camera made just for taking lots of numbered consecutive photographs.

        Thorndyke has been given this little mystery, along with a reel of photographs of the footprints of Mr. Lewson that show him walking on a path and past Mr. Pottermack’s home. No doubt Thorndyke will find the telltale signs of forgery, probably in the guise of:

        1) The extra side-pressure on the footprints where Pottermack steps out into the tracks to begin his counterfeiting operation.

        2) The length of stride is likely different

        3) The weight of the two people (I think Lewson was much heavier) will show a sudden different depth of the tracks.

        Or maybe something else will come up. The plot is set up well but now seems rather gadgety as far as handing it off to Thorndyke. But I’ll stay with it and see.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          One hint: Just think of Holmes’s reaction to the murder of Charles Augustus Milverton.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            It’s been so long since I read that one. The synopsis at Wiki reminds me of what a good story it is. Holmes, of course, was always a bit of a law unto himself, something that often caused Watson a good deal of soul-searching and angst. I’m not sure (again) that the Jeremy Brett adaptation (not his fault, of course) was as good. But my favorite of the Granada adaptations in terms of recovering lost items is The Second Stain wherein Patricia Hodge (Phyllida Erskine-Brown in the “Rumpole” series) is absolutely splendid as the concerned wife. She is a British beauty in that uniquely British way.

            But I can’t offhand think of the connection of the blackmailer with this current Thorndyke novel. I will plod on and perhaps see.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            This story has not turned out as cliched as I thought it would be. It’s a very good read so far, above the usual plot of a mystery/detective story.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I just re-read “The Vanishing Man” and “The Red Thumb Mark” and was again pleased with both. I agree the love stories involved are a bit syrupy for my taste, but they don’t greatly detract from the books. Turn-of-the-century tastes were different from today’s.

      Not only did Freeman write beautifully, he also wrote clearly. He description of scientific devices and procedures which Dr. Thorndyke uses is wonderful.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Mr. Kung, right now I’m reading The Mystery of 31 New Inn, my fourth book (not read in order) of the Thorndyke series. I started this after finishing The Borough Treasurer by J.S. Fletcher. I very much enjoyed this through 70% of it. But then it fell apart because of the thoroughly patched-on and uninteresting plot line of why the accused murderer would not supply a readily-available alibi. And it was really a bit of a botched, patchwork effort regarding the rest of the plot.

        So I’m off Fletcher for the moment and back on R. Austin Freeman. So far (16% into it) The Borough Treasurer promises to be a good story.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I re-read “The Mystery of 31 New Inn” in November or October. It was also worth the time. As in just about all of the Thorndyke series, there are some very nasty people involved in this one.

          As to Fletcher’s book, unfortunately, I find that a weak ending is one of the major failures in many, otherwise, very well written books.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This novel (“Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight”) has surprised me. It has a depth of plot and character I didn’t see in “A Certain Dr. Thorndyke” nor in “The Red Thumb Mark.” However it ends (and it wouldn’t be the first novel I’ve read that peters out at the end), we’ll always have Lewson.

    I’m at the point where (spoiler alert…anyone who hasn’t read this will not want to read further) Pottermack (Potomac…interesting derivation) has gotten an idea from an old mummy for how to get out of his conundrum. He cannot marry the fair lady if the fair lady’s husband’s death cannot be established. And he’ll have a damn hard time establishing it without incriminating himself.

    The tragic (although it could end well…we’ll see) love story is a good one. Freeman offers a deftness of touch to both plot and characters that is above average for this genre, at least in this novel.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m 20% into the Thorndyke mystery, The Eye of Osiris. It was a somewhat frustratingly boring start but I kept with it and it’s gained some interest.

    It’s surprising how similar one story is to another. This is yet another story about a problematic will. In this case, John Bellingham’s brother has gone missing. He’s presumed dead but can’t be proved dead which messes up the dispensation of a will. Bellingham is (for a Thorndyke novel) a fairly fleshed-out and congenial character. These novels tend toward the dry, dry, and very dry. Bellingham and his sweet (sweet or conniving? we shall see) sister seem more complex than the usual cast of peripheral characters.

    But you really do have to read at least 30 pages into this. It is a horribly-written opening.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Last night, I finished a nice period piece by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, titled “The White Company.”

      For an interesting, if romanticized view of chivalry in the mid-to-late fourteenth century, one could not do better than this book. Many of the characters are historical figures.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Doyle considered his historical novels (such as The White Company, which I believe was based somewhat on Sir John Hawkood’s mercenary unit) his best work. He definitely did NOT put Sherlock Holmes there, which shows how much an author knows.

        As for The Eye of Osiris, I know I read it. I think it may be the one in which Thorndyke eventually showed how the serious flaws in the will led him to the real villain.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          In fact, there is little in Doyle’s book which has to do with the White Company. Hawkwood is mentioned a couple of times, but never appears. The company itself, only enters the narrative toward the end of the book and disappears (literally) before the end.

          I enjoyed the book and it brought to mind Haggard’s “Red Eve.”

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished “The Eye of Osiris,” and although it is bookended by weak chapters at the start and finish, this was actually one of the most pleasurable Thorndyke reads. The characters in it are believable and alive, and there are various situations and incidents, thoughtful told, that keep this from being yet another “Thorndyke is withholding information from us but we’ll find out at the end” type of novel.

    In this case, some key features of the mystery were not resolved. And of those that were resolved, the explanation of many of them seemed weak and contrived. Nevertheless, I can recommend this novel wholeheartedly with those reservations in mind, including the opening chapter or so that does not seem to portend an interesting read.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      My recollection is that the key was a will that Thorndyke had read about in hte newspapers, and realized that it was designed NOT to accomplish what the testator wanted — suggesting legal malpractice.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m now halfway through a collection of short stories called John Thorndyke’s Cases which can be found here.

    These are easily digestible reads and I think the short form works well for his brand of sleuthing which can be, to my mind, a bit narrow and gimmicky. With the short stories, if it’s a ho-hum bit of CSI work, you’re not committed to a full novel. “The Man with the Nailed Shoes” offers little not found in “Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight.” However, “The Stranger’s Latchkey” is a nice short story, as are a couple others (so far). Four down, four to go in this particular collection.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished the Thorndyke novel, “A Silent Witness,” last night. That’s several hours I would like to have back. This book is a compendium of the worst aspects of R. Austin Freeman’s writing. I won’t bother you with the details, but suffice it to say that I was rooting that main character in the book (not Thorndyke) would finally meet his well-deserved fate in the third (or fourth?) murder try upon him by the villain. It’s that bad.

    But considering I’ve now read six Thorndyke novels and one collection of short stories, it’s not as if I don’t know what I’m talking about. Avoid this one. I might try a couple more. But…sheesh…”A Silent Witness” may have spoiled my taste for any more. Just had to bitch about this or my head was going to explode.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I haven’t given up on the Thorndyke novels, but you have to pick and choose. I started reading “The Mystery of Angelina Frood” and put it down after only a few pages. Here was no less than the third, out of six novels that I’ve read, that started with the premise of a former student of Thorndyke — now a practicing doctor — setting forth into the night to attend to a mysterious patient.

      My eyes immediately glazed over and I thought about trying a new technique. This book was written in 1924. “The Silent Witness” (a truly horrid book, but one that I did manage to barely finish) was written in 1914. I had thought that by skipping ten years, I would be getting something better. So I decided to go back and see when the finest Thorndyke novel that I’ve yet read — “Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight” — was written. This reverse-mystery was written (or at least published) in 1930.

      So I picked the next novel from 1931, “Pontifex, Son and Thorndyke.” Happily, this novel did not start out with a doctor being called away by a mysterious agent to diagnose a mysterious patient in the middle of a mysterious night. It’s another reverse-mystery which begins by following a 17-year-old yute who is hired to move a large crate of “eggs” to what turns out to be a seedier part of town. The plot thickens from there before involving Thorndyke by the third chapter or so. So far this is a much more readable book.

      Most of the Dr. Thorndyke novels and short story collections can be downloaded here.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Well, you do provide a good list of books to avoid. I vaguely think I may have the Angelina Frood book; the title sounds familiar. But like virtually all our books, there’s always the question of what gets taken with us (if anything) when we find a permanent residence. I think the inverted mysteries may overall be the best Thorndyke stories, which may reflect my fondness for the Columbo series. (A book on the series credits Freeman with inventing the concept of the inverted mystery in “The Singing Bone” — which references a folk poem or song exemplifying the idea.)

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          You may certainly leave “The Silent Witness” with Goodwill. I’ll let you know as I progress through “Pontifex, Son and Thorndyke” if it’s a good read. We certainly share the same taste regarding Pottermack, so I’m guessing my judgment on this would be similar to your own.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        67% (two-thirds) into Pontifex, Son and Thorndyke and I’m very pleased with it. I’m aware that it could crash-and-burn at the end because of some of the lame explanations to the mysteries in past novels. But because this is a reverse-mystery, that’s less likely to happen.

        In fact, this is interesting because it’s a semi-reverse mystery. You know some of what is going on but not all. The novel is chopped up into two major story lines: the Thorndyke investigation (of course) and the life of this 17-year-old son of Pontifex who takes any odd jobs he can find in order to get by. Although the author is still too comfortable with using coincidences, this novel doesn’t suffer much from them so far.

        The basic gist of it is that a fairly rich member of the English blue-bloods (although a relatively minor strain) goes missing. At the same time, Pontifex’s son finds the gentleman’s ring which the English gentleman uses as a wax seal. This seal turns up in an odd and unexpected way (from the perspective of Thorndyke) and even we don’t know all the details. But the kid gets ahold of it and either muddies the investigation or is giving away vital clues that Thorndyke might not have had in the first place. The kid isn’t in on the disappearance but in the course of doing an odd job for someone, he has intersected with the low-lifes who certainly are.

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