Saturday, April 07, 2012

Dr Thorndyke

This has been my Ebook reading project, y'all. I spent my winter commutes reading Thorndyke novels like crazy. Everything Aldiko had to give me, I believe. Let's make a list first.
Copy from Wikipedia, and edit ...

The Red Thumb Mark (1907)
The Eye of Osiris (1911)
The Mystery of 31, New Inn (1912)
A Silent Witness (1914)
Helen Vardon's Confession (1922)
The Cat's Eye (1923)
The Shadow of the Wolf (1925)
The D'Arblay Mystery (1926)
A Certain Dr Thorndyke (1927)
As a Thief in the Night (1928)
Mr Pottermack's Oversight (1930)
Pontifex, Son and Thorndyke (1931)
When Rogues Fall Out (1932),
For the Defence: Dr Thorndyke (1934)
The Penrose Mystery (1936)
Felo de se? (1937)
The Stoneware Monkey (1938)
Mr Polton Explains (1940)
The Jacob Street Mystery (1942), published in the USA as The Unconscious Witness

And short story collections too:

John Thorndyke's Cases (1909)
The Singing Bone (1912)

So what I have left to read seems to be:

The Mystery of Angelina Frood (1924)
Dr Thorndyke Intervenes (1933)
Dr. Thorndyke's Casebook (1923)
The Puzzle Lock (1925)
The Magic Casket (1927)

and/or possibly Dr. Thorndyke's Crime File (1941) -- omnibus including "Meet Dr. Thorndyke" (essay), The Eye of Osiris (novel), "The Art of the Detective Story" (essay), The Mystery of Angelina Frood (novel), "5A King's Bench Walk" (essay), and Mr. Pottermack's Oversight (novel).

As you can guess, I am no longer in a position to write about each and every one of these stories. Although I have made a tonne of bookmarks. Oh so many bookmarks, with the idea that I could quote passages that would illustrate R. Austin Freeman's special style. Ah well. (This page is quite good, you can read this instead of reading me to be honest.)

Dr Thorndyke is a funny character. While reading these I took a break and read a Dorothy Sayers triple mr Bani borrowed from the library in a kind-hearted attempt to read something I like (he didn't, I did), and in Have His Carcase there's this bit where Harriet Vane and Lord Peter are joking around about being a detective and saying how she should behave if she were in various detective novels, and makes a comment about being in a Dr Thorndyke novel. A comment I've now forgotten, but it's something along the line of the mystery being brilliantly solved by a judicious scientifical experiment. Which is one of Freeman's trademark moves. Dr Thorndyke is So. Fecking. Great. He is a total Mary Sue. Freeman adores the idea of the educated, clever, handy man, the kind that was gentleman yet worked, book-learned yet able to make things. Oh, how wonderful it is with these men that Construct, that see a need and fill it instantly by making something themselves. Dr Thorndyke, admittedly, is not the Constructor, that's his assistant, mr Polton. So I'm muddling myself already. Dr Thorndyke he kicks Sherlock Holmes ass. He comes in a room and instantly forms a theory of whodunnit and why. His Watson is Jervis, who wanders around being pleasantly dense. Despite this Thorndyke retains faith in his brilliance and sees him as a worthy heir to his business.

Oh where was I ... right, So Fecking Great. Thorndyke is tall and handsome. A gentleman. A bachelor who is self-sufficient. Extremely intelligent. Lawyer and doctor. The greatest mind in England. In other words, most often very boring. The villains can be more interesting by far. Freeman, as I understand it, pretty much introduced the mystery novel that tells the story from the criminals point of view, thus letting us now how and why the crime was committed straight away. It makes you kind of root for the villain sometimes. And sometimes the villain is righteous. (Oh, as usual in Golden Age detective fiction, blackmail is the most serious of all crimes, justifying even murder.) But Thorndyke himself is so perfect he is dull. He's best in Mr Pottermack's Oversight, in which he quickly works out who the murderer is, and why he murdered, and decides it's not his job to reveal this without being asked to intervene, because he thinks there was justification for the crime.

There's often a little romance between youngsters. And first I felt Freeman's attitude to women was awful, then I kind of recanted. I think he's no worse that anyone else at the time (or now, for that matter). Exalting traditional feminine virtues and behaviour, while in the end really admiring women who go get it. Like in Helen Vardon's Confession, which is surprisingly insightful. If more than a little anti-semitic. I don't know if I can forget the Jew-prejudice that easily. It's unsavoury. And then there's racism galore in one story set in Africa. But the African in another novel is wonderful, because he's Educated and thus Civilized, I suppose.

I'll read the rest, when I find them, no worries. After finishing all these I felt really itchy for more vintage crime, but I'm too stressed and scatterbrained to sit scouring Ebay or similar for it. But lists are good! 

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