#934: “It was surprising what a change the last minute or two had wrought…” – The Great Portrait Mystery [ss] (1918) by R. Austin Freeman

The short story collection The Great Portrait Mystery (1918) occupies an odd position in the oeuvre of R. Austin Freeman. Five of the seven stories herein have almost nothing to do with each other — tonally, thematically, genre-wise — and the other two are inverted tales of detection featuring his famous medical jurist character Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke. So were Freeman’s publishers simply fancying up some of his B-material by including a couple of Thorndyke tales to draw otherwise-uninterested readers to this collection? Let’s find out.

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#894: A Silent Witness (1914) by R. Austin Freeman

A Silent Witness

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Sheltering from the rain while out for a walk in north London one September evening, trainee doctor Humphrey Jardine happens upon the body of a dead man, only for the corpse to have vanished by the time he is able to bring the police to the location. Before long, a discovery at the scene of this vanishing, a chance encounter with the comely Miss Sylvia Vyne, a suspicious clergyman, and the death of an elderly patient just as Jardine is about to act as locum tenens for another doctor’s practice will combine with this mobile corpse to make quite the most “astounding sequence” in young Jardine’s life, changing it forever.

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#806: The Red Thumb Mark (1907) by R. Austin Freeman

Red Thumb Mark

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As a firm proponent of reading an author’s work chronologically, I’m a terrible hypocrite. I initially encountered Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke in his eighteenth published volume, and then read his third, fifth, fourteenth, seventeenth, fourth, and sixteenth before now getting to his debut, The Red Thumb Mark (1907). Those of you following along at home will know how much enjoyment I’ve taken from Freeman’s writing, and the simple truth is that, had I started here, I may still be working up the enthusiasm to read further. Not that this is a bad book, and in many ways it’s a fascinating one, but it’s difficult from here to see the heights RAF would scale later in his career.

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#787: “My methods of defence are based on demonstration rather than rhetoric…” – The Magic Casket [ss] (1927) by R. Austin Freeman

At 1.30pm UK time today, the Bodies from the Library Conference starts online for the delectation of classic detection fans the world over. As my talk is due to be about detection, I thought I’d turn that into a flimsy excuse to write about one of my favourite discoveries of recent years: Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke.

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#773: The Mystery of 31 New Inn (1912) by R. Austin Freeman

31 New Inn

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Summoned one evening to the house of a bedridden man — and taken there in a carriage with blacked-out windows to obfuscate the location — Dr. Christopher Jervis suspects poisoning but is assured by the people looking after Mr. Graves that no poison could have been administered. Some weeks later, he is summoned a second time and, after administering some treatment that sees Mr. Graves begin to revive, is dismissed and never hears of the patient or his carers again. Between these two visits, however, Jervis consulted Dr. John Thorndyke, which proves to be most fortuitous when further investigation into the matter becomes important.

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#743: As a Thief in the Night (1928) by R. Austin Freeman

As a Thief in the Night

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2020 will linger in the memory for many reasons, but I’m going to try to remember it as the year in which I discovered the joy of R. Austin Freeman’s Dr. John Thondyke.  I had previously read, and entirely forgotten about, the impossible crime short story ‘The Aluminium Dagger’ (1909), but it is the novel Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight (1930) — the plot of which is proposed by Thorndyke herein, anticipating Agatha Christie’s use of the same foreshadowing in The A.B.C. Murders (1936) of Cards on the Table (1936) — that I shall consider my first bread with Freeman. And As a Thief in the Night (1928) caps an invigorating year of author-discovery.

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#703: The D’Arblay Mystery (1926) by R. Austin Freeman

D'Arblay Mystery

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After a two month blogging hiatus in which I cleared a lot of lingering chaff from my TBR, it was wonderful to pick The D’Arblay Mystery (1926) as the first book for my return and love the absolute socks off of it.  Having now acclimatised myself to the faintly pedantic verbiage of Richard Austin Freeman, I’m happy to acknowledge my parsimony in giving the masterful Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight (1930) — my first encounter with the author’s long-form work — a mere four stars and to correct that error here with the gloriously involving puzzle of Julius D’Arblay’s murder.  While in many ways a thoroughly unsurprising book, in the ones that count it is joy unconfined to my GAD-happy soul.

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#694: “It was a small matter but very conclusive” – The Singing Bone, a.k.a. The Adventures of Dr. Thorndyke [ss] (1912) by R. Austin Freeman

Singing Bone, The

It was my understanding that William Shakespeare invented the word “eyeball”.  The noun eye was extant at the time, as was the concept of a ball being something round, but that Shakespeare was the one to take the two principles and conflate them.  It turns out he didn’t [see the comments below this post], but presumably someone did, and that’s all I really need to be the case for this opening paragraph.

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