(E)Book Read! John Thorndyke’s Cases

R. Austin Freeman, John Thorndyke’s Cases (1909).

First sentence: “There are, I suppose, few places even on the east coast of England more lonely and remote than the village of Little Sundersley and the country that surrounds it.”

P. 99: “He took up the horn and tapped it with his finger, while the sollicitor and Mr. Felton stared at him in speechless wonder.”

Last sentence: “‘And’, I added, ‘the deep sea would have uttered its message in vain.'”

John Thorndyke is the detective in this collection of short stories (and in other collections and novels as well) written by R. Austin Freeman. The character is described by Wikipedia like this:

Dr John Evelyn Thorndyke is a fictional detective in a long series of novels and short stories by R. Austin Freeman (1862-1943). Thorndyke was described by his author as a ‘medical jurispractitioner’: originally a medical doctor, he turned to the bar and became one of the first – in modern parlance – forensic scientists. His solutions were based on his method of collecting all possible data (including dust and pond weed) and making inferences from them before looking at any of the protagonists and motives in the crimes. (Freeman, it is said, conducted all experiments mentioned in the stories himself.) It is this method which gave rise to one of Freeman’s most ingenious inventions, the inverted detective story, where the criminal act is described first and the interest lies in Thorndyke’s subsequent unravelling of it.

Thorndyke resided at 5A King’s Bench Walk, Inner Temple. He was often assisted by his friend and foil Christopher Jervis, who usually acts as narrator, and always by the resourceful Nathaniel Polton, his crinkly-faced lab technician. Thorndyke tended to have a better relationship with the police (usually in the form of Superintendent Miller) than Sherlock Holmes did, despite proving them wrong on numerous occasions. Thorndyke, although tall, athletic, handsome and clever, never married. Between 1907 and 1942 Thorndyke appeared in around 60 novels and short stories.

After enjoying P.D. James’s Talking about Detective Fiction, I decided to read more older criminal novels and stories, and Freeman’s Thorndyke seemed like a good start.

This collection comprises 8 stories: The Man with the Nailed Shoes, The Stranger’s Latchkey, The Anthropologist at Large, The Blue Sequin, The Moabite Cipher, The Mandarin’s Pearl, The Aluminium Dagger and A Message from the Deep Sea, and I didn’t really like the second one (all the evidence depended, just like in the first one, solely on footprints) and the one about The Mandarin’s Pearl (I thought the story was rather far-fetched). The others, though, I really enjoyed.

I think I am beginning to like John Thorndyke, although of course he is not to be compared yet with Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

This book was the 16th I read for the 2011 E-Book Challenge and the 16th I read for the 2011 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge.



  1. It sounds like a fun book. I’ve never heard of the author. Short stories aren’t really my thing but it can be nice every now and then.

    • I had never heard of Austin Freeman either, Judith, but when you are looking for free e-books, you have no trouble finding him.
      Normally I don’t read short stories, but once in a while these make an easy and quick read.

  2. Looks like an interesting book. I have been reading a thriller by Brian Freeman but never heard of this one.

    • It was a nice read, JannyAn… I don’t know Brian Freeman, so I cannot compare.
      Thanks for your comment!

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