Friday, 20 December 2019

Forgotten Book - Dr Thorndyke Intervenes

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to acquire a copy of Dr Thorndyke Intervenes that was inscribed by the author, R. Austin Freeman. The inscription appealed to me because it is one of those relatively uncommon ones that casts some light on the author's construction of the story. He gave the book to his friend R.F. Jessup and explained that "the notorious Druce case furnished the suggestion" for the main plot strand, adding that another element of the plot derived from "my experiences with a pair of platinum-nosed forceps".

The novel was published in 1933 and is written in Freeman's characteristic leisurely, rather prolix style. But it begins with a vivid and memorable opening scene at Fenchurch Street Station when a man comes to reclaim some left luggage. What is found, however, is a trunk that contains a human head. The man immediately flees the scene, leaving bystanders with an inexplicable conundrum.

In typical Freeman style, the focus soon shifts to another plot strand. A likeable American called Pippet has come to England to pursue an unlikely-seeming claim to an inheritance. He has the misfortune to encounter a wily chap with an even wilier solicitor friend, and is naive enough to be induced to hire the lawyer to progress the claim. But they soon come up against Dr Thorndyke, who has been instructed by a rival claimant.

The plot thickens from there. The interest lies not so much in the machinations which resulted in the discovery of the human head (which involve a bunch of not very interesting villains) as in the neat way in which Freeman dovetails the various plot strands. It's quite a clever story, even if the behaviour of one or two of the characters does test one's suspension of disbelief. And, as is so often the case with Freeman, it has a rather unconventional structure and flavour which compensate for the sometimes portentous prose.


Rick Robinson said...

I posted on Thorndyke today also, The Portrait Mystery. I'm rereading Freeman's stories and novels and enjoying them a great deal.

Jonathan O said...

I agree that Mr. Pippet does seem to be taken in by the seedy lawyers too easily. Nevertheless this is one of my favourite Freemans - and I've never had a problem with his prose style.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Rick. I haven't read Portrait, but perhaps I should give it a try. Freeman was definitely an interesting writer and by no means orthodox.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Jonathan. I agree that Symons was too harsh about Freeman's prose, although it is scarcely pacy. In any case, there are plenty of compensations, as Chandler noted.