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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74 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 Oswald took off the day it was discovered that the jewels in the safe had been replaced by fake ones.Everyone rightfully assumed he was guilty.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.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished “The Mystery of Angeline Frood” the other night. You can find it for free here

    The novel is mostly non-controversial bland reading. That sounds like high praise indeed. It’s not one of Freeman’s better novels but it is by no means his worst…until it comes to the end. I’d issue a spoiler alert, but no one in his right mind (what’s that say about me?) would want to read this:

    Angelina Frood disappears. Her abusive husband is suspected. From the clues left behind, the astute reader will grasp the likely probability that she has “murdered” herself in order to finally be free of the man. And this is precisely what happened. No big mystery there.

    The really dumb part of the story is that Angelina Frood was hanging around in the story dressed as a man…for reasons that make little sense. And although Dr. Strangeways (one of the good guys) had fallen in love with her, there is no fallout between them at all because of this deceit. Her husband (by coincidence) dies a few days before she disappears which opens the way for her and Dr. Strangeways to get together. I mean, if you read this story, and you think of what she did, Dr. Strangeways (or anyone) would likely be cautious of ever getting close to this woman.

    The man that Frood was playing who followed Dr. Strangeways around while he searched for Angeline was an obviously odd character. But there was no way the reader could have known it was Frood in disguise. Maybe some subtle clues were left, but I don’t remember any. A novel such as this gives me new hope that I, too, could be come a writer. A bad one, at least.

    You can tell that some of these novels are just stream-of-consciousness schlepped out with no particular artfulness to them in regards to character and plot. This was one of those schlepped-out ones. Still, until the rotten and stupid ending, it was a harmless read.

  9. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Last night I finished R. Austin Freeman’s “As a Thief in the Night. You can find it here.

    This seemed like a shorter read than most of the other novels of his I’ve read. But it wasn’t too short. It was just right. Freeman did not repeat himself or go off on tangents. Although a couple of the books I’ve read so far were better (obviously including “Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight”), I thought this novel had the least baggage.

    Some of Freeman’s writing is just dull, dull, and duller. Or he unduly stretches credulity in his plots and characters. Or he just repeats himself needlessly. In “As a Thief in the Night,” Freeman is at his best in terms of a realistic character and plot. This, you think, is a story that could really happen. It is relatively free of gimmicks. You see real people (well, real fictional people, that is) become ensnared in a drama. And the story is presented in digestible chunks. You feel you are looking over the narrator’s shoulder as the set of events and characters unfold. Freeman does a nice job here making the characters real.

    Thorndyke, of course, plays his cards close to his vest as usual. There is some craftiness in the writing in that you can, at times, suspect where Thorndyke might be going in terms of his investigation. But it won’t be until the end that he explains it all. And such is the case here, and it mostly holds together as plausible.

  10. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    My off-again, on-again Thorndyke obsession continued with The D’Arblay Mystery. This one rates about a 6 out of 10 on the Dull Meter.

    The mystery begins well. To borrow from the Amazon synopsis: “A man is found floating beneath the skin of a green-skimmed pond one morning.” He’s found, of course, by one of Thorndykes former students (a recurring motif). Dr. Gray (the former student of Thorndyke) discovers the body…and discovers the dead man’s daughter in the same woods. She is alive and well and quite handsome This no doubt helps craft Dr. Gray’s sympathies into a larger and encompassing expression.

    This is all to the good. And then another recurring motif: Dr. Gray is called to attend a patient in somewhat mysterious circumstances. Of course the two cases connect. And, of course, the plot is convoluted. There’s probably a good reasons few criminals would ever try such as scheme. It’s because there are far simpler ways to fool the law than is played out in this story.

    Still, the first half of the novel hangs together well enough. And by then I just felt I ought to finish it. If anything, Thorndyke’s trusted and multi-capable assistant, Polton, takes on a slightly larger role and gives the quite dull second half of the novel some points here and there. But clearly this was the kind of boilerplate story that Freeman must have cranked out in his sleep. No part of it, that I can see, is original compared to his other stories.

    Thorndyke, of course, is opaque as ever. And there is zero satisfaction at the end reading his narrative of what happened, when he became suspicious of certain motives, etc. It’s just a convoluted and unbelievable wreck. Still, some of Freeman’s books are well worth reading. This just isn’t one of them.

  11. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished Felo de Se last night. (You can, again, find most of Freeman’s books, including this one, here for free.) A synopsis from one Amazon reviewer:

    An attractive, cultured young man from Australia squanders his fortune on reckless gambling. When his bank account is empty, he commits suicide. Blackmail letters are found in his desk. This looks like yet another explanation for why this once well-to-do man lost his money and his will to live. His cousin from Australia wants the blood of the blackmailers. Dr. Thorndyke is retained to investigate.

    I had to look up the meaning of “felo de se.” It’s an archaic legal term for suicide, Latin for “felon of himself.” Suicide figures large in this story. The reader is treated to two unusual and suspicious suicides.

    This one seemed shorter than most (272 pages for the paperback). This was about the right length. Too many of his stories become run-on sentences that don’t know when to end. This one ended properly.

    There’s nothing hugely unique about this cast of characters. But I will say that the plot struck me as a good deal more sensible and plausible. And it’s not just because I had a pretty good inkling what was going on, in the broad. Actually, it was obvious that something was up and what it likely was in broad terms.

    I think what improved this novel is that it was absent the cliches of: Man finds body. Man comes to aid of pretty woman whose father/husband/relative was killed. Man is ex-student of Thorndyke. Man falls in love with woman. Woman seems receptive but you don’t know if her affection is because of the emotional turmoil of the recent murder. Thorndyke solves case and explains how the twisted and unlikely plot penned by the author now makes sense. Man and woman announce their undying love and it’s clear they will spend a happy life together.

    It also helps that because Jarvis was narrating most of this (after the narration of a story at the beginning by the man who initially discovered a body, apparent suicide) gives us at least a slight peek at what Thorndyke is thinking. The constant meme of Thorndyke begging off giving any hints as to what he is thinking because “All the clues are there, you just need to put them together yourself” is still there, but it is slackened a bit, and this is good for the novel. Another tiresome cliche is smoothed over a bit.

    This is a pretty good read if you like the Thorndyke novels.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Unfortunately, my Kindle doesn’t seem to like the hotel or hospital internet access, so I haven’t been able to get any new books of my own.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Will a Kindle accept an EPUB file? That is one of the formats on the website you linked to.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        According to this obnoxious (the ad that won’t immediately go away) PC Mag article, the Kindle can’t read the EPUB format. Such books have to be converted to Mobi format first using a program such as Calibri, which I’ve used often to make various conversions.

        You can, of course, read all these formats and more with a typical ebook reader available for various tablets, phones, and desktop computers. But if you use the Kindle reader app (or the Kindle hardware readers), your choices are more limited.

  12. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m taking at least a small break from Thorndyke. My current book is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. This came up in a listing of free books from inside my favorite Android book reader, Moon+ Reader Pro. This book was subtitled as one of the founding books of detective/crime stories. So far so good. I’m about 50 pages into it.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      It has been years since I read “The Moonstone”, but I do recall enjoying it. Anything to do with Indian idols and jewels stolen therefrom cannot be boring.

      His “The Woman in White” is a very different kind of mystery. I liked it, but not as much as “The Moonstone.”

      Collins was a what they today call “a colorful character.”

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I have both books (at my house, which effectively means I no longer really have them), but I don’t recall ever getting around to reading either one. That’s what happens when you buy books faster than you can read them.

  13. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This morning I finished “Dr. Thorndyke Intervenes.” That’s an interesting title because Dr. Thorndyke’s very essence is to intervene. A shocking title would be “Dr. Thorndyke Does Not Intervene.” Then you’d have a headline.

    In this story the author has repeated familiar elements: Two crimes seemingly unconnected that we, dear readers, know will intersect at some point; an over-complicated and not particularly plausible plot; the detailed procedures of an inquest (and I rather do like this shtick); a love story thrown on top like a beach umbrella tied at the last minute to top of the family station wagon.

    What we don’t have is the buffoonish, but well-meaning, bystander who gets caught in the middle of a crime. Nor do we have one of Thorndyke’s former students seeking him out. Nor do we (especially thankfully) have an ex-student of Thorndyke set up in medical practice who is called out to tend to a mysterious patient.

    The two crimes are: a theft of a considerable quantity of platinum; a murder whose only evidence is a severed head found in a suitcase at the bus (or train) station. The appeal of these novels is most certainly to spend some time with some congenial and rational people. The plots themselves leave something to be desired as they are articulated.

    It’s Jervis who narrates the story and it would have been just as well to tell it in the third person because he has no part in the story. There isn’t much Polton in it, but he does make a significant appearance near the end. Inspector Miller is along for the ride almost the entire time in this one. And rather than the tired, bland adversarial relationship that is such a common cliche, he’s pretty much on Thorndyke’s side and is suitably deferential and cooperative which brings good results for both.

    The missing platinum and the severed head seem like filler because the main story — and the third mystery — is about the claim of a rich American to an English title and estates whose owner is presumed dead in Africa, having died without an heir it seems. This is where the writing sparkles when it sparkles at all. This American, rather than the stereotypical sneer of English down-talking, is treated as rather a good fellow. He doesn’t crave an English title for himself (he’s already filthy rich and truly American in the sense that he could give a fig about titles). He’s doing this for his daughter who does like the idea.

    This is a book that could have been very good with some re-drafting of the plot. The plot builds toward what should be profound and interesting points of completion (and thus satisfaction) but the endings of all three mysterious are anti-climatic, at best. Perhaps such is real life. The villain is never given a satisfying comeuppance. We only read about it in passing.

    The character handled with the most skill is the American father who has come to England to follow a not-very-plausible story of a Lord of a castle who is said to have lived a double life. He may have lived part time a Lord of the castle and part time as an innkeeper (of the name and family of the American). It’s an interesting idea but unfortunately not skillfully written. One of the huge flaws of the Thorndyke series is that the stories often don’t unfold before you with the hounds set loose to discover the details. Instead the shtick is that you know that Thorndyke knows but he’s not telling. And so you just have to wait until the part where he lays it all out.

    But for this third mystery, there is a somewhat satisfying conclusion and I won’t spoil it. But the platinum/severed-head mysteries, while they do hold some value in the telling, are intrinsically forced and fabricated. Not to mention more than a bit convoluted and hard to follow.

    Still, at least this novel does not generally bore you as some others do, particularly by just repeating the same plot point over and over again. In one of his novels (I forget which one), Thorndyke repeatedly warns the protagonist not to venture out alone or in shady areas. What does the man do? Three times his life is almost lost when he is accosted.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      That murder makes me wonder if this was written after, and inspired by, the Charing Cross trunk murder, one of Sir Bernard Spilsbury’s noted cases.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I had not heard of that murder case. There is a book on the subject from the looks of it.

        “Dr. Thorndyke Intervenes” was published in 1933. According to this website, the first in what apparently was a series of murders was on May 10, 1927, at the Charing Cross Station. So I think it’s almost certain that Freeman was referencing this.

        On May 10, 1927, the attendants noticed a foul odor emanating from the left-baggage department at the Charing Cross Station. They discovered the smell coming from a large, black trunk. The staff became suspicious and notified police. When the trunk was opened, the police discovered five brown paper packages that were tied with string. The packages were opened to reveal the arms, legs and torso of a female.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Another writer who fictionalized actual Spilsbury cases was August Derleth in a couple of his Solar Pons stories. In his case, the source seems to have been the biography of the great forensic pathologist, The Scalpel of Scotland Yard, but Freeman probably was inspired by news reports.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Timothy, that sounds like an interesting biography. I found used copies in hardcover but have pretty much restricted my reading to electronic book readers.

            Then I ran into Internet Archive where I applied for a free library card. Then I needed Adobe Digital Editions to make it work. It didn’t work. Then I thought about signing up to the local library. I did. The software recommended is called “Libby” and it seems to work very well. I input my ages-old library card and it work. I downloaded “Lincoln’s Lieutenants” as sort of a test case. It was the first thing that caught my eye when browsing. I nearly gagged at the kind of libtard slop that I had to browse past first. Good, god. In some respects I feel sorry for these people who are being turned into noodle-heads. But even more, I just have a visceral reaction against this stuff. I think it’s ruining our country. It’s noxious.

            Anyway, I did first search for “The Scalpel of Scotland” and it’s not available at my library. But at least I’ve got the library app working. Maybe I’ll want to some day become a pathetic snowflake and read all these books they offer as their first picks. Good god.

            But….if I don’t mind reading it online (and I do mind), I can view “The Scalpel of Scotland” at Internet Archive.

            Okay, with much trial and tribulation, I got Adobe Digital Editions to read the book offered via Internet Archive…and in epub format…and all on my phone. What a pain, but I have it on loan for 14 days now. It looks like it might be interesting….right in line with my Thorndyke obsession.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I’ve read to mark 65 of 403 of “The Scalpel of Scotland Yard.” I skipped quite a bit of the early stuff about his family. Boring. Who cares? I wanted to get to his career. I picked it up at is entry into college.

            What this book explains is the ill regard in which forensic science was held. There was a large case in England that made this so. Some early pathologists really botched things up. It apparently took 20 years to recover.

            The subject of the biography, Spilsbury, was a plodding hard-worker who was appreciated by a triumvirate of renowned pathologists in this struggling field who were on the cutting edge at St. Mary’s College. They took young Spilsbury under their wing and remained associated with him in one way or another for the rest of their lives.

            Spilsbury, along with these men — with the aid of some famous cases that caught the public eye…in particular The Crippen Case — brought good repute onto the field of forensic science. Spilsbury was calm, unflappable, confident, and extremely to the point in the witness box. And he was very well prepared and knew his stuff.

            Spilsbury was so obviously as least partially a model for Freeman’s Dr. Thorndyke. Both were extremely studious, logical, and methodical. Spilsbury was apparently not as gregarious and amiable as the fictional Thorndyke although Spilsbury was well liked and very much respected. And, like Thorndyke, he was the go-to guy for interesting or hard cases. It is said that criminals and their lawyers were very much displeased when they learned that Spilsbury would be aiding the prosecution.

            Another interesting thing about Dr. Spilsbury is that he was a very conservative fellow. During his internship he spent some time with midwives and saw some of the horrors of abortion. He ruined many a career of abortion doctors because of his extensive notes and eye for detail. More than once he put two-and-two together to find a likely abortion doctor and have him prosecuted.

            And he wasn’t having any of the “therapeutic abortion” nonsense. Interesting as well, he was against socialized medicine. Oh, he said that indeed they might get the system to run, but “working” and doing a good job is another thing altogether. He was a man ahead of his time in many ways.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              On the other hand, like many in his profession, he really didn’t like guns.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                One of the interesting aspects of this bio is that it mentions that Spilsbury became interested in why criminal people do what they do. In one of the famous poisoning cases (The Crippen Case, I think) he noted that the poisoner was well off enough. Had a good family. Nice home. Nice income and retirement prospects. But he simply chose to poison a lady to try to steal some of her property which wasn’t all that much in comparison to what he already had.

                The scariest thing of all are evil people. There are just a lot of really twisted people out there. Even more shocking than the relatively few people who are [i]very[/i] twisted are the legions of people who are at least [i]slightly[/i] twisted. This is what they mean, surely, about fallen human nature.

                None of us is perfect. We are all capable of at least small bad things. But all of us have had the experience of seeing into at least a partially dark heart. It might be someone who is otherwise quite decent and productive. But you glimpse that dark aspect.

                We all have them to some extent. The tragedy of Progressive/Leftist culture is that instead of viewing our dark aspects as something we must conquer, we have said we must “celebrate” them.

                And this, really, is ultimately what this NFL kneeling thing is about. It’s about those trying to normalize the idea that it isn’t aspects of malignant black culture that is at fault but instead is the fault of a racist country. That is, malignant black culture is so good it actually should be above the law.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                That case you’re mentioning, one of the early cases, was Seddon — “the mean murderer”, remembering that “mean” in British English (as in the Beatles’ “mean Mr. Mustard”) refers to someone very miserly.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I haven’t heard yet that Spilsbury had his Polton but apparently, like Thorndyke, he had a rather fully equipped and elaborate laboratory in his home.

                I’m not sure that I’ll finish this biography. But at least some of the case histories are at least mildly interesting. One of them was about a guy who spent 15 years basically charming women out of their money. The biographer does as good a job as any of trying to explain how this man could be so instantly appealing to women to the point that they would agree to marry him and put him in their will within days.

                At first all he did was to set up a relationship with the woman, lure her into some remote place like a seaside resort, give her an excuse why he had to suddenly leave, and then would return to her place and rob her of anything of value and then move onto the next victim. The biographer makes it quite clear that this guy must have been extremely good at finding the right kind of women. The general consensus floating around was that he had some power of hypnotism.

                For whatever reason, this guy turned to drowning his victims in a bathtub and claiming they had simply had a seizure and drowned by accident. He even got the women implicit in what would become his alibi by somehow getting them to feign illness even if they weren’t ill. His power over these women was remarkable.

                Even despite his bold and callous behavior, he was getting away with this for a while until one relative took his suspicions to the police. Spilsbury, not unlike Thorndyke (or vice versa) was instrumental in showing that the women had absolutely no health issues that could lead to drowning in a bathtub, as well as showing the virtual impossibility of doing so in the bath tubs in question.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                As I recall, the woman was a professional diver, and still stopped breathing from the pull. Fortunately they were able to revive her. Spilsbury apparently opposed doing the experiment.

                Oops — I see this got misplaced. If you could place it appropriately, I’d appreciate it.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I can’t move things, Timothy. Only delete or edit..at least regarding comments. And, indeed, Spilsbury was against the dunking demonstration.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Ah, the Brides in the Baths. A famous case, up there with Crippen among Spilsbury’s early cases. I even encountered a reference to it in a story by Robert Bloch. Now you know why they recommend holding your nose shut when you dive into the pool.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Yeah. The did a test in front of the jury. A woman was pulled under in the method that Thorndyke…err, Spilsbury…thought happened. I’ve certainly slipped in the water a number of times in my yute or been pulled under when playing roughhouse. But the chick who was the Guinea pig actually nearly passed out simply from suddenly being pulled under. I don’t understand that. But apparently it is a known phenomenon. For chicks only? I don’t know.

  14. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’ve lost track of how many novels I’ve read already. My rough count using this thread is 12 novels and one collection of short stories. I blame this obsession on Timothy and Mr. Kung. But I’ve started to read “Dr. Thorndyke’s Discovery (When Rogues Fall Out).” (You can find most, if not all, Thorndyke novels here.)

    This one starts out very nicely. A man — a somewhat dodgy man but not altogether of the criminal class — gets caught in a severe thunderstorm while walking on a country road. Luckily he finds unexpected refuge in a small cottage that was just around the bend.

    His hosts give him tea. The man taking refuge (Mr. Tokes), a dealer in antiques, notices a clock in a dark corner. He recognizes it as a potentially valuable piece from the 17th century and buys it for two pounds. Upon examination of the clock in his workshop he finds a secret compartment inside of which is some valuable jewelry worth up to 10,000 pounds. He’s aware of a fairly recent robbery noted in the papers and understands the likelihood that someone has used this clock to store the jewels temporarily, but unbeknownst to the owners of the cottage. Sure enough, the son-in-law of the old couple in the cottage comes calling on Mr. Tokes for return of the clock. And that’s just about where I left it.

  15. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Last night I finished “Dr. Thorndyke’s Discovery (When Rogues Fall Out).” I won’t give away the plot but it’s somewhat a sequel to another novel.

    As I mentioned earlier, this one starts out with a slightly shady, but not outright criminal, art dealer named Mr. Tokes. His story runs parallel to another one which is the murder of Detective Badger. Parallel stories being ultimately connected is long a device of Freeman in the Thorndyke series.

    Other than that, it’s one of his best novels that I’ve read so far. It has plenty of variety in it. It’s a good read. I can’t think what novel other than “Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight” that I would put above it.

    Upon the demise of one of the criminals, Thorndyke makes this decidedly non namby-pamby statement:

    “But it is a mistake to grow sentimental over the Nemesis that awaits the criminal. The most far-reaching mercy that can be exercised in social life is to safeguard the liberties of those who respect the liberties of others. Believe me, Jervis, the great purveyor of human happiness is not philanthropy, which seeks to soften the lot of the unworthy, but justice, which secures to the worthy the power to achieve their own happiness, by protecting them from the wrong-doer and the social parasite.”

    I don’t find Freeman’s novels to be explicitly full of social commentary. But this one was a beaut. I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to Thorndyke fans. If you have read the many posts above, you’ll see this is not always so.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Sounds good. August Derleth was another writer who appreciated justice for the wicked, both in true crime stories and in his fiction. (One of his Solar Pons stories deals with the subject, involving a judge letting people off on technicalities — and what happens to them afterward.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Well, I think you (and/or Mr. Kung) introduced me to Thorndyke, and you in particular to “Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight.” I hope you get a chance to read this one, Timothy.

        And I wish his novels had more of this kind of explicit philosophy, although the stories themselves, of course, are an implicit endorsement of lawfulness. The setup for this quote from Thorndyke was Jervis wondering how Thorndyke could take such relative pleasure, even from the downfall of a criminal. Obviously Thorndyke not being a snowflake, he didn’t lose any sleep over the evil-doer getting theirs.

  16. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I started “The Cat’s Eye” a few days ago. Nothing special at this point, but neither has it simply recycled tired themes (although Jervis’ fill-in — the lawyer, Antsey, who has appeared in other novels — seems destined to have a romance with yet another woman who is a victim of a crime).

    I should be familiar enough with Thorndyke’s methods to be able to guess where he’s going with thing. But I never do. I’m in the same situation as Jervis (or Antsey, in this case).

    Some seemingly valueless trinkets are stolen from a collector of jewelry. It’s obvious there is some hidden message or code inscribed or contained within a few of the trinkets. The owner of them is killed in the robbery which is apparently committed by three men. Here’s a pretty good synopsis from an Amazon reviewer:

    In this Dr. Thorndyke mystery, there’s no waiting for action to begin. The narrator, barrister Robert Anstey, walks right into a murder scene, attracted by the screams of a beautiful young woman. The dead man is a harmless old bachelor who collects objects of arcane appeal.

    Several pieces of inscribed jewelry are missing. The inscriptions are of historic interest, though the jewels themselves have no value. It’s a strange sort of burglary perpetrated by clumsy amateurs – who nonetheless got clean away.

    Dr. Thorndyke takes on the case and enlists Anstey as his sidekick. Anstey makes a perfect foil for the great forensics expert, since he misses the significance of everything. But he’s a gentleman and quite courageous – a good man to have around in a life-and death-situation, and the plot offers several.

    Normally-sedate Anstey is swept away by the Pre-Raphaelite beauty of Miss Blake, the young woman wounded by the murderer. So we have the fun of a romance mixed in with a murky murder case.

    The plot, which is ingenious and complex, includes a contested inheritance with a fascinating history. And the reader is treated to plenty of scientific and analytic exploits by Dr. Thorndyke. We watch him test for poison; take impressions of fingerprints, handprints and footprints; detect secret chambers; and interpret coded messages. Weird superstitions and traditions also have a role in the plot.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I finished “The Cat’s Eye.” I would put this in the middle of the list in terms of readability. It has some points in its favor. But I thought in this one, more than any other, Thorndyke’s reluctance to share some of his information and reasoning spoiled the book. It’s just way overdone.

  17. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Last night I finished “For the Defense: Dr. Thorndyke.” This is a somewhat unusual Thorndyke novel in that he makes his entrance quite late. He is first mentioned 63% into the novel by a friendly prison Medical Officer who is trying to help the accused (Andrew Barton) with his defense. He first then speaks 64% into it as Thorndyke meets the accused in prison for his first interview to decide if he wants to take on the case.

    The circumstances of Andrew Barton are the result of a multiplicity of small errors in judgment combined with some freak occurrences. Although his story is unique, even implausible, it’s certainly not impossible.

    As Mr. Barton becomes more and more twisted in his own circumstances, he deems a defense for himself to be impossible and even undesirable…until the charges escalate to murder.

    The last part of the story is somewhat disappointing. From the time of Barton first meeting Thorndyke nothing substantially new occurs. The rest of the book consists basically of Thorndyke’s long interview with Barton (which restates what we, the reader, already know) and then it goes to trial which consists of few surprises and consists basically of hearing the same story again in a formalized version in court by the defense and prosecution. We take no part in Thorndyke verifying these facts or partaking in his investigatory work other than one minor and obvious detail involving an X-ray.

    But the story up until this point is a fun read. The latter part doesn’t ruin it, per se. Thorndyke’s interview of Barton is satisfying. The court trial does have some small, but hardly unexpected, points of interest. But R. Austin Freeman shows no inclination for using his imagination in the wrap-up of this adventure as he did in laying its groundwork. I suspect either he got bored with the work or simply loves writing accounts of court proceedings.

    But (small spoiler) there are almost no details of the interaction between Mr. Barton and his wife who he has badly used via his misadventures. Freeman just seemed to run out of the desire to write any further. There were all kinds of possibilities to wrap things up but he just chose to end the novel.

    Still, this is a relatively short novel and I’d rate it as one of Freeman’s top five that I’ve read so far (which is approaching, if not surpassig, a dozen).

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