In GAD We Trust – Episode 20: The Dr. Thorndyke Stories of R. Austin Freeman [w’ Dolores Gordon-Smith]

In January of last year, I read my first R. Austin Freeman novel, little suspecting that it was to be the first step along a road of sheer delight. And so, to mark the end of Series 2 of In GAD We Trust, today I’m discussing Freeman and the Thorndyke stories with author and fellow R.A.F. fan Dolores Gordon-Smith.

I find Freeman and Thorndyke fascinating for all manner of reasons, not least because they seem to me to be the first genuine evolution of the Great Detective beyond being merely a Sherlock Holmes facsimile. Since Dolores read every single one of the Thorndyke mysteries last year, she’s in a great position to be able to discuss this, and to look at the development Freeman brought to the emerging GAD genre that he would go on to propogate in his later novels. And, of course, no discussion about Freeman is complete without mentioning his somewhat dubious personal perspectives, such as his support for the eugenics movement — we’re mainly here for his detective fiction, you understand, but it’s interesting to reflect on how a man who wrote such intelligent books could also be so blinkered.

Plus, Doctor Who gets a mention. Of course.

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here, on Spotify here, or on Stitcher here, or by using the player below. 

Thanks to Dolores for taking the time to talk about one of my favourite new old authors, to Jonny Berliner for the music, and to you for continuing to listen. IGWT will take a bit of a break now, and may be back later in the year.


10 thoughts on “In GAD We Trust – Episode 20: The Dr. Thorndyke Stories of R. Austin Freeman [w’ Dolores Gordon-Smith]

  1. Thanks once again for doing these Jim – and to all the guests. MX Publishing are in the process of reissuing the whole of Thorndyke in case anyone is inspired by what has been said here.


    • Thanks, John, I forgot to mention the MX Publishing reissues — if anyone is interested, they’re being published in multi-volume editions and details can be found here.

      Alternatively, House of Stratus are still putting the books out as individual titles, searching “Austin Freeman Stratus” on the world’s largest purveyor of everything wil bring them up — I’m more of a fan of individual books, it has to said.

      There are, too, a load or poorly-formatted and cheap ebook editions…just an absolute avalanche of money-grabbing, disrespectful shite available for a pittance. But please remember to distinguish between “this book is poorly produced” and “this is a bad book” if you got that route 🙂


  2. I believe that I speak for Brad as well when I insist that all future episodes of In GAD We Trust feature Jim saying “aluminum” at least once.

    I’ve collected a half dozen R Austin Freeman novels and really need to start reading them. The Singing Bone was a joy to read, and I’m drooling at the comment that his output was of consistent quality.


    • But…why would I say a word that doesn’t exist?

      I, too, am pretty excited by the prospect of his output being largely consistent in terms of quality. You look at the publications dates and see how he’d sometimes wait four years between books and it’s…great — he wasn’t going to rush out three books a year, he was willing to wait for the right idea to come along and be explored with the rigour he had established elsewhere.

      Frankly, I’m delighted.


  3. I’m always delighted to find other RAF enthusiasts, but I must disagree with Dolores about “For The Defence: Doctor Thorndyke”, which is by no means a totally bad book (despite the fact that the sequence of events which gets the central character into such a mess is unbelievably improbable). I’d certainly suggest that it should be on your TBR list at some point, although not before the books Dolores mentioned (and I’d also suggest “The Mystery of Angelina Frood”).
    I wonder if anyone ever pointed out to Freeman that, while his opinion was clearly that those practicing “modern” art were just charlatans, people like Picasso and Magritte were certainly capable of doing good, conventional work, but just chose not to do so?


    • Oh, dude, if you want art commentary then I’m going to disappoint you.

      And, rest assured, all of RAF’s stuff willl find its way onto my TBR in due course.


  4. I enjoyed listening to this and agreed with you both on most things. I do remember when I first came across the House of Stratus editions imagining a weird hybrid TV version called CSI:1910. I recall reading suggestions that Dr. Thorndyke’s green bag was copied by the UK police in the 1920s.

    I wonder whether some of the aspects which can come over as anti-semitic nowadays reflect a different trope which is perhaps sometimes seen in authors such as Joseph Conrad. The anarchist Russian exile seems to have been the late 19th century/early 20th century equivalent of the Muslim fundamentalist this century.

    While virtually all his books are well worth reading, I would warn against Pontifex, Son and Thorndyke as that is probably the most jarring for modern day readers.

    While I enjoyed Mr. Polton Explains and a Certain Dr. Thorndyke, the mystery element of both books takes second place to an almost Robert Tressell like attack on how the system keeps the poor in their place and the second has an OK at best crime latched on to a a fascinating description of life on the Gold Coast and a derring do adventure.

    I would second Jonathan O’s recommendation of Angelina Frood and add Shadow of the Wolf.


    • The anarchist Russian exile seems to have been the late 19th century/early 20th century equivalent of the Muslim fundamentalist this century

      Dude, you are so far into my ignorance here, I have no idea what to say.

      As for the titles you mention, I’m looking forward to finding a Freeman I don’t enjoy just so I know what that looks like. The Crofts books I’ve liked least thus far are thin on plot and long on scheme, and I wonder what I’ll find displeasing in RAF. Not enough science, perhaps, which might make Mr. Polton Explains a likely candidate, but then any time spent with Polton seems delightful at present and so I’d probably overlook that quite happily.

      We wait and see; the guy wrote 27 books in this series alone, stands to reason at least one of them ain’t gonna land with me…


  5. Pingback: My Book Notes: The Singing Bone, s.s. collected 1912 (Dr Thorndyke) by R. Austin Freeman – A Crime is Afoot

  6. Pingback: 2022 Centenary Prize for Golden Age Detective Fiction | The Bodies From The Library

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