Dr. Thorndyke

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John Evelyn Thorndyke
Richard Austin Freeman - L'affare D'Arblay (The D'Arblay Mystery) - I Gialli Mondadori 1931.jpg
Cover of the Italian translation of The D'Arblay Mystery
First appearanceThe Red Thumb Mark
Last appearanceThe Jacob Street Mystery
Created byR. Austin Freeman

Dr John Evelyn Thorndyke is a fictional detective in a long series of 21 novels and 40 short stories by British author 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 21 novels and 40 short stories.


  1. The Red Thumb Mark (1907)
  2. The Eye of Osiris (1911), published in the USA as The Vanishing Man
  3. The Mystery of 31, New Inn (1912)
  4. A Silent Witness (1914)
  5. Helen Vardon's Confession (1922)
  6. The Cat's Eye (1923)
  7. The Mystery of Angelina Frood (1924)
  8. The Shadow of the Wolf (1925)
  9. The D'Arblay Mystery (1926)
  10. A Certain Dr Thorndyke (1927)
  11. As a Thief in the Night (1928)
  12. Mr Pottermack's Oversight (1930)
  13. Pontifex, Son and Thorndyke (1931)
  14. When Rogues Fall Out (1932), published in the USA as Dr. Thorndyke's Discovery
  15. Dr Thorndyke Intervenes (1933)
  16. For the Defence: Dr Thorndyke (1934)
  17. The Penrose Mystery (1936)
  18. Felo de se? (1937), published in the USA as Death at the Inn
  19. The Stoneware Monkey (1938)
  20. Mr Polton Explains (1940)
  21. The Jacob Street Mystery (1942), published in the USA as The Unconscious Witness
  • 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), and 5A King's Bench Walk" (essay)

Short stories[edit]

The short-story collections are:

  1. John Thorndyke's Cases (1909) (published in the United States as Dr. Thorndyke's Cases).
  2. The Singing Bone (1912) (published in the United States as The Adventures of Dr. Thorndyke).
  3. Dr. Thorndyke's Casebook (1923) (published in the United States as The Blue Scarab)
  4. The Puzzle Lock (1925)
  5. The Magic Casket (1927)

Two different omnibus editions of the collected Dr. Thorndyke short stories exist. The British edition is R. Austin Freeman, The Famous Cases of Dr. Thorndyke: Thirty-seven of His Criminal Investigations as set down by R. Austin Freeman (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1929 and later reprintings). The American edition is R. Austin Freeman, The Dr. Thorndyke Omnibus: 38 of His Criminal Investigations as set down by R. Austin Freeman (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1932 and later reprintings). The American edition includes one story, "The Mandarin's Pearl," printed in the first Thorndyke short-story collection, John Thorndyke's Cases, but omitted from the British omnibus. Two other stories, "The Man with the Nailed Shoes" and "A Message from the Deep Sea", though also appearing in the first Dr. Thorndyke short-story collection, John Thorndyke's Cases, were omitted from the British and American editions of the omnibus collection.

The order in the list appearing below is that of the American edition, which reprinted the five collections of stories in the following order (with two omissions already noted and also indicated below): The Singing Bone, Dr. Thorndyke's Cases, The Magic Casket, The Puzzle Lock, and The Blue Scarab. The British edition gives the stories in a different order from that of the American edition, indicated below by a bracketed note appearing after each story title giving its place in the British edition, denoted by the abbreviation UK and a two-digit number.

The first six stories of the list are "inverted" detective stories, divided into two parts. In the first part of each story, Freeman presented an account of the commission of a crime; in the second part, he presented an account, by Thorndyke's colleague Dr. Christopher Jervis, of Dr. Thorndyke's solution of the crime. The remaining stories are called "direct" stories.

A modern publisher, Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, issued a 10-volume edition of the complete works of R. Austin Freeman, including all the Thorndyke novels and short stories. Amazon released two volumes of electronic versions of "Dr. Thorndyke Mysteries Collection", each containing four of the original books.

  1. The Case of Oscar Brodski [UK 01]
  2. A Case of Premeditation [UK 02]
  3. The Echo of a Mutiny [UK 03]
  4. A Wastrel's Romance [UK 04]
  5. The Missing Mortgagee [UK 05]
  6. Percival Bland's Proxy [UK 06]
  7. The Old Lag [UK 07]
  8. The Stranger's Latchkey [UK 08]
  9. The Anthropologist at Large [UK 09]
  10. The Blue Sequin [UK 10]
  11. The Moabite Cipher [UK 11]
  12. The Mandarin's Pearl [omitted from British edition]
  13. The Aluminium Dagger [UK 12]
  14. The Magic Casket [UK 13]
  15. The Case of the White Footprints [UK 31]
  16. The Blue Scarab [UK 32]
  17. The New Jersey Sphinx [UK 33]
  18. The Touchstone [UK 34]
  19. A Fisher of Men [UK 35]
  20. The Stolen Ingots [UK 36]
  21. The Funeral Pyre [UK 37]
  22. The Puzzle Lock [UK 22]
  23. The Green Check Jacket [UK 23]
  24. The Seal of Nebuchadnezzar [UK 24]
  25. Phyllis Annesley's Peril [UK 25]
  26. A Sower of Pestilence [UK 26]
  27. Rex v. Burnaby [UK 27]
  28. A Mystery of the Sand-hills [UK 28]
  29. The Apparition of Burling Court [UK 29]
  30. The Mysterious Visitor [UK 30]
  31. The Contents of a Mare's Nest [UK 14]
  32. The Stalking Horse [UK 15]
  33. The Naturalist at Law [UK 16]
  34. Mr. Ponting's Alibi [UK 17]
  35. Pandora's Box [UK 18]
  36. The Trail of Behemoth [UK 19]
  37. The Pathologist to the Rescue [UK 20]
  38. Gleanings from the Wreckage [UK 21]
  39. The Man with the Nailed Shoes [omitted from both omnibus editions]
  40. A Message from the Deep Sea [omitted from both omnibus editions]

Television adaptations[edit]

A short series featuring Dr Thorndyke was produced by the BBC in 1964, entitled Thorndyke. The title character was played by veteran British actor Peter Copley.

Based on the stories written by R Austin Freeman, the episodes, all of which except the pilot are missing from the BBC archive, were as follows:

  • "The Case of Oscar Brodski" (Pilot — as part of BBC series Detective)
  • "The Old Lag"
  • "A Case of Premeditation"
  • "The Mysterious Visitor"
  • "The Case of Phyllis Annesley" (adapted from 'Phyllis Annesley's Peril')
  • "Percival Bland's Brother" (adapted from 'Percival Bland's Proxy')
  • "The Puzzle Lock"

Two stories were also adapted as part of the Thames TV series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, in 1971-3. These were:

  • "A Message from the Deep Sea" (from the first series and starring John Neville as Thorndyke)
  • "The Moabite Cipher" (from the second series and starring Barrie Ingham as Thorndyke)

Both series are available on DVD: in the UK from Network Video and in the USA from Acornmedia.[citation needed]

Radio adaptation[edit]

On September 14, 1963 Mollie Hardwick adapted Mr. Pottermack's Oversight on Saturday Night Theatre for the BBC Home Service in the Series Murder for Pleasure.[1]

Starting in 2011 the BBC aired radio adaptations of some of the Thorndyke short stories, Thorndyke: Forensic Investigator on BBC Radio 4 Extra.[2]

Series 1[edit]

November 2011 read by Jim Norton

  • A Mysterious Visitor
  • The Puzzle Lock
  • A Mystery of the Sand Hills
  • Pathologist to the Rescue
  • The Secret of the Urn
  • Pandora's Box

Series 2[edit]

March 2013 read by William Gaminara

  • The Stolen Ingots
  • Rex v Burnaby
  • The Stalking Horse

In January 2015, Tim McInnerny played Dr. Thorndyke opposite James Fleet's Inspector Lestrade in Chris Harrald's adaptation of "The Moabite Cipher" in the third series of the BBC Radio 4 series The Rivals.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mr. Pottermack's Oversight" BBC Genome Project
  2. ^ "Thorndyke: Forensic Investigator" BBC Radio 4 Extra Programmes bbc.co.uk
  3. ^ "The Rivals - Series Three: The Moabite Cipher" BBC Radio 4 Extra Programmes bbc.co.uk

External links[edit]

  • Thorndyke mysteries at Faded Page
  • "The Complete Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke".
  • "Dr Thorndyke Short Story Omnibus". and many novels available at Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 2012-10-28. External link in |publisher= (help)