The Adventures of Dr Thorndyke (The Singing Bone) – R Austin Freeman (1912)

I’ve been enjoying the enthusiasm displayed for the work of R Austin Freeman by JJ over at The Invisible Event, and when I stumbled upon a cheap set of Freeman paperbacks by Avon and Popular Library, I snatched them up immediately.  I was tempted still to seek out The Singing Bone (which seems to be Freeman’s most heralded story collection), nearly dropping $10 on a mediocre-covered edition.  Thank goodness I passed it up though: out of the five books I’d collected, I somewhat randomly decided to start my Freeman reading with The Adventures of Dr Thorndyke. Flipping open the cover of my Popular Library edition,I was astonished to learn that it was actually the US title for The Singing Bone.

The Adventures of Dr Thorndyke features five short stories, each divided into two halves.  In the first half of each, we get an inverted mystery set up, showing how some soul was led down a dark path to murder, and their subsequent steps to avoid detection.  In the second half, the story completely shifts perspective, and we watch as series detective Dr Thorndyke applies scientific principles to uncover the truth.  In a sense, we’re really treated to ten short stories – five tales of villainy and five tales of detection (ok, so the final story The Old Lag doesn’t quite fit the mold).

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