The Red Thumb Mark, John Thorndyke’s Cases, The Eye of Osiris, and The Mystery of 31 New Inn – R. Austin Freeman

The Red Thumb Mark (Dodo Press)

From the Publisher:

Richard Austin Freeman (1862-1943) was a British writer of detective stories, mostly featuring the medicolegal forensic investigator Dr Thorndyke. He invented the inverted detective story and used some of his early experiences as a colonial surgeon in his novels. A large proportion of the Dr Thorndyke stories involve genuine, but often quite arcane, points of scientific knowledge, from areas such as tropical medicine, metallurgy and toxicology. His first stories were written in collaboration with Dr John James Pitcairn (1860-1936), medical officer at Holloway Prison and published under the nom de plume “Clifford Ashdown”. His first Thorndyke story, The Red Thumb Mark, was published in 1907 and shortly afterwards he pioneered the inverted detective story, in which the identity of the criminal is shown from the beginning: some short stories with this feature were collected in The Singing Bone in 1912. In The Red Thumbmark, John Hornby is the proud owner of a dazzling diamond business and when his nephews go into business with him, they are determined to be given their full share of responsibility. A consignment of diamonds is entrusted to the nephews who place their precious hoard in a safe overnight. But come the morning, the diamonds are missing and incredibly, the safe has been left untouched, all except for two blood smeared thumb prints and the inevitable presence of a mysterious Mr X. In one of Freeman’s finest, will Dr Thorndyke, the erudite master of insight solve the enigma of the red thumb mark?


John Thorndyke's Cases

From the Publisher:

At the turn of the 20th century, Richard Austin Freeman (1862-1943) emerged as an author to be reckoned with in the world of detective fiction, introducing the highly memorable scientific detective Dr. Thorndyke, an early forensic sleuth. Armed with his little green case full of scientific detection aids, Thorndyke unravelled murders and mysteries using logic and material evidence.

This volume collects seven of Thorndyke’s most puzzling stories, including “The Man with the Nailed Shoes,” “The Moabite Cipher,” “A Message from the Deep Sea,” and many more.

Freeman’s important novels include: The Mystery of 31 New Inn (1911), The Eye of Osiris (1911), and A Silent Witness (1914), artistically written and memorably characterized. Later major works include The Red Thumb Mark, When Rogues Fall Out, and The Jacob Street Mystery.

The Eye of Osiris

From the Publisher:

John Bellingham is a world-renowned archaeologist who goes missing mysteriously after returning from a voyage to Egypt where fabulous treasures have been uncovered. Bellingham seems to have disappeared leaving clues, which lead all those hunting down blind alleys. But when the piercing perception of the brilliant Dr Thorndyke is brought to bear on the mystery, the search begins for a man tattooed with the Eye of Osiris in this strange, tantalisingly enigmatic tale

The Mystery of 31 New Inn (A Dr Thorndyke Mystery)

From the Publisher:

New Inn, the background of this story, and one of the last surviving inns of Chancery, has recently passed away after upwards of four centuries of newness. Even now, however, a few of the old, dismantled houses (including perhaps, the mysterious 31) may be seen from the Strand peeping over the iron roof of the skating rink which has displaced the picturesque hall, the pension-room and the garden. The postern gate, too, in Houghton Street still remains, though the arch is bricked up inside. Passing it lately, I made the rough sketch which appears on next page, and which shows all that is left of this pleasant old London backwater. . . .

My thoughts:

Okay, I feel like I’m cheating a bit on my reviews, but I’ll review all these stories as one.  These are my general feelings about the stories:  overall, quite enjoyable, filled with interesting facts, the characters are well developed, and the relationship between Thorndyke and Jarvis somewhat brings to mind the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  The two main problems I had reading these, were the long descriptions that sometimes felt interminable, and Thorndyke’s attitude toward Jarvis was getting to me by the 3rd or 4th mystery (I really hated that smug, “I know it all, and I’m sure that since you’re intelligent enough you’ll come with the same conclusion I  reached, you just need to study the evidence a bit more”).  I really, really, really hated Thorndyke’s attitude.  Also to keep in mind is the fact that the mystery is not necessarily the main part of the plot, in most of these it is really easy to guess who the murderer is.  Freeman being one of the pioneers of the inverted detective story, he used that format quite a bit.  That doesn’t bother me though, because my real interest is to see the reasoning process behind how they discover the murderer.  But that might tick some readers off, so be forewarned. 


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