#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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#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.

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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.

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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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#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.

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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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