Friday, April 21, 2017

Another fan

Today John Mark Reynolds posted about several authors, "They were almost great...Five Remarkable Writers." One of those falling just short of his five was R. Austin Freeman.
R. Austin Freeman
I don’t know many people who read the Dr. Thorndyke stories outside of detective book junkies. They are odd in that they start with the “whodunit” and then reveal the how he done it. ....
I love the Freeman books and as I thin out my library they will not be among those that go. From previous posts on this site:

Many of Freeman's stories are "inverted" detective tales where you are told the story of the crime from the perpetrator's point of view including, of course, all the steps taken to conceal what he has done, and then observe the detective's inexorable discovery of the guilty. Evans says that Freeman was one of T.S. Eliot's favorite detective novelists, better than Christie. Evans on Freeman:
Although Freeman’s first detective novel, The Red Thumb Mark, appeared in 1907, well before the beginning of the Golden Age, Freeman, a contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle, continued writing mystery fiction until the year before his death in 1943. Between 1922 and 1938, Freeman published fifteen detective novels and three collections of detective short stories, all but one detailing exploits of his then-famous detective (and the greatest rival of Sherlock Holmes), medical jurist Dr. John Thorndyke. Two more Thorndyke novels appeared in 1940 and 1942, outside the proper span of the Golden Age.

Freeman’s Thorndyke tales brought science and forensic medicine into the detective fiction genre in a masterful way. Compared to Thorndyke, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is far less credible on scientific matters. ....

Though some of Freeman’s best works, such as The Eye of Osiris (1911) and the short-story collections John Thorndyke’s Cases (1909) and The Singing Bone (1912), were published before the Golden Age began, Freeman produced many superb Golden Age works, including the three later short story collections Dr. Thorndyke’s Casebook (1923), The Puzzle Lock (1925), and The Magic Casket (1927) and novels such as The Cat’s Eye (1923), The Shadow of the Wolf (1925), As a Thief in the Night (1928), Mr. Pottermack's Oversight (1930), The Penrose Mystery (1936), and The Stoneware Monkey (1938).

Freeman’s story collection The Singing Bone has been credited with creating the inverted mystery, and the later novels Wolf and Oversight are fine examples of that form. [more]
I don't possess all of those books, but of those I do own Mr. Pottermack's Oversight is a favorite, as are a couple he doesn't mention, A Silent Witness [1929] and For the Defense: Dr. Thorndyke [1934].

And...

Most of these books, by R. Austin Freeman, were what was known as an "inverted" detective story: the book started with the crime, from the criminal's point of view, and then you observed Dr. Thorndyke, as he inexorably moved toward discovering the criminal [although not always exposing him]. I'm reading Mr. Pottermack's Oversight, first published in 1930, and came across the following in the text, reminding me that plot is not the only reason I find Freeman so enjoyable:
Temperamentally, Dr. John Thorndyke presented a peculiarity which, at the first glance, seemed to involve a contradiction. He was an eminently friendly man; courteous, kindly and even genial in his intercourse with his fellow creatures. Nor was his suave, amicable manner in any way artificial or consciously assumed. To every man his attitude of mind was instinctively friendly; and if he did not suffer fools gladly, he could, on occasion endure them with almost inexhaustible patience.

And yet, with all his pleasant exterior and his really kindly nature, he was at heart a confirmed solitary. Of all company, his own thoughts were to him the most acceptable. After all, his case was not singular. To every intellectual man, solitude is not only a necessity, it is the condition to which his mental qualities are subject; and the man who cannot endure his own sole society has usually excellent reasons for his objection to it. (p. 105)
Many of the Freeman books are now in the public domain and available for download free as ebooks. One source.