Perhaps April Fool’s Day isn’t the best scheduling of this post, but the recent experience of dragging my way through Helen Vardon’s Confession (1922) by R. Austin Freeman got me thinking about the literary detectives I’d follow to hell and back, and I figured that it might be worth expanding upon.Continue reading
R. Austin Freeman
#1043: Helen Vardon’s Confession (1922) by R. Austin Freeman
I’ll be honest, I’ve been kind of dreading this. A glance across the spines of the Dr. John Thorndyke novels and short story collections by R. Austin Freeman reveals Helen Vardon’s Confession (1922) to be his longest book by a factor of about 50%, yet Nick Fuller — who directed me so some excellent Thorndyke novels when I was new to author and character both — considers it perhaps Freeman’s worst offering. And having now read it, I can see its many problems, not least of which is a short story’s worth of criminous endeavour hiding in a 130,000 word novel that takes in too many loose ideas to warrant its tedious length. This was…not fun to read.
#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.Continue reading
#894: A Silent Witness (1914) by R. Austin Freeman
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.
#853: “He is an old friend, you know, and he is very much interested…” – John Thorndyke’s Cases, a.k.a. Dr. Thorndyke’s Cases [ss] (1909) by R. Austin Freeman
After a tough few months in which I have been very grateful for the support of good friends and the presence of good books, let’s discuss the latter, eh? Kicking off 2022 is John Thorndyke’s Cases (1909), the first collection of short stories to feature Richard Austin Freeman’s medical jurist.Continue reading
#811: Reflections on Detection – The Knox Decalogue 9: The Watson
The end of the Knox Decalogue is in sight! This week it’s Watsons, next week it’s Twins, and then — oh no! — there’s a final Tuesday in the month that I have to fill with something. A flashy dance routine, perhaps?Continue reading
In GAD We Trust – Episode 23: What’s in a Watson? [w’ Caroline Crampton]
The companion of the fictional detective — the “stupid friend” as Ronald Knox styled them — is something I have spent far too long thinking about, mainly because the protoype is always taken to be Sherlock Holmes’ chronicler Dr. John H. Watson. Joining me this week to discuss why that might not always be a good comparison to draw is Caroline Crampton of the superb Shedunnit podcast.Continue reading
#806: The Red Thumb Mark (1907) by R. Austin Freeman
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.
#790: On the Morals of Golden Age Detective Fiction, via Crime and Detection [ss] (1926) ed. E.M. Wrong
That title is doing a lot of work, isn’t it? Fair warning: this goes on a bit.
At the online Bodies from the Library conference last weekend, I gave a talk inspired in part by E.M. Wrong’s introduction to the 1926 anthology Crime and Detection. And, in addition to coining the term “Wellington of detection” that inspired the thinking I laid out last weekend, there is plenty of material in that piece of prose to get the cogs turning.Continue reading
#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.Continue reading