Doctor Thorndyke

Created by R. Austin Freeman

Although he’s not formally a private investigator, DOCTOR JOHN EVELYN THORNDYKE is a freelance consultant often retained by insurance companies and the like to provide expert medical testimony in cases of suspicious deaths and other matters. He doesn’t even like being called a detective — the author referred to Thorndyke as “a medical-jurispractitioner.” But this definitely makes him one of the first “scientific detectives.”

As such, he’s ready to go, traveling with a small green case full of miniaturized medical and scientific equipment, including a telephoto camera, X-ray machines, microscopes and assorted forensic doodads — after all, you never know when you’ll have to run some chemical analysis or carve up a corpse.

Pretty humdrum in these days of CSI-this and CSI-that, but back in the day, he was one of the most popular of the early, post-Sherlock Holmes crime fighters. He appeared in 22 novels and at least 40 short stories, and later appeared on radio and television.

Through it all, the tall, athletic Thorndyke was accompanied by his Watson-like friend (and occasional foil) Christopher Jervis, who usually serves as narrator, and his resourceful lab technician Nathaniel Polton.always by the resourceful Nathaniel Polton.

Thorndyke lives at 5A King’s Bench Walk, Inner Temple in London, and generally gets along with the police — something Holmes never quite mastered. But unlike Holmes, nobody could claim Thorndyke was a particularly compelling character — he was pretty much a dry, humourless prig; a trait he shared with other contemporary sleuths as Philo Vance, although he was nowhere near as insufferable.

But you don’t read Thorndyke for the captivating prose or the psychological depth — you read him to for the peeks into the early days of forensic science, in the waning days of the Victorian era, when scientific advances were just beginning to worm their way into police work, and even fingerprints were only starting to be considered as possible evidence.


  • “Reading a Freeman story is very much like chewing dry straw.”
    — Julian Symons, Bloody Murder


  • “The Blue Sequin” (December 1908, Pearson’s Magazine; aka “The Blue Spangle”)
  • “The Anthropologist at Large” (February 1909, Pearson’s Magazine)
  • “The Aluminium Dagger” (March 1909, Pearson’s Magazine)
  • “A Message from the Deep Sea” (July 1909, Pearson’s Magazine; aka “Message from the Grave”)
  • “The Man with the Nailed Shoes” (1909, John Thorndyke’s Cases)
  • “The Mandarin’s Pearl” (1909, John Thorndyke’s Cases)
  • “A Message from the Deep Sea” (1909, John Thorndyke’s Cases)
  • “The Stranger’s Latchkey” (1909, John Thorndyke’s Cases)
  • “The Moabite Cipher” (1909, John Thorndyke’s Cases)
  • “The Stranger’s Latchkey” (1909, John Thorndyke’s Cases)
  • “A Wastrel’s Romance” (August 1910, The Novel Magazine)
  • “The Case of Oscar Brodski” (December 1910, Pearson’s Magazine)
  • “A Case of Premeditation” (Pearson’s Magazine)
  • “31 New Inn” (January 1911, Adventure)
  • “Death on the Girder” (September 1911, Pearson’s Magazine; aka “The Echo of a Mutiny”)
  • “The Dead Hand” (October 1912, Pearson’s Magazine)
  • “The Old Lag” (1912, The Singing Bone)
  • “A Wastrel’s Romance” (1912, The Singing Bone)
  • “The Missing Mortgagee” (1918, The Great Portrait Mystery)
  • “Percival Bland’s Proxy” (1918, The Great Portrait Mystery)
  • “The Blue Scarab” (January 1923, Pearson’s Magazine)
  • “The Stolen Ingots” (September 15, 1923, Argosy All-Story Weekly)
  • “A Fisher of Men” (October 20, 1923, Argosy All-Story Weekly)
  • “The New Jersey Sphinx” (1923, Dr. Thorndyke’s Case-Book; also as “Fatal Ruby”)
  • “The Blue Scarab” (1923, Dr. Thorndyke’s Case-Book)
  • “The Case of the White Foot-Prints” (1923, Dr. Thorndyke’s Case-Book)
  • “The Funeral Pyre” (1923, Dr. Thorndyke’s Case-Book)
  • “The New Jersey Sphinx” (1923, Dr. Thorndyke’s Case-Book)
  • “The Touchstone” (1923, Dr. Thorndyke’s Case-Book)
  • “The Mysterious Visitor” (October 25, 1924, Flynn’s)
  • “Little Grains of Sand” (November 29, 1924, Flynn’s)
  • “Rex vs. Burnaby” (December 27, 1924, Flynn’s)
  • “Nebuchadnezzar’s Seal” (January 31, 1925, Flynn’s)
  • “The Puzzle Lock” (February 28, 1925, Flynn’s Weekly)
  • “The Green Check Jacket” (March 28 1925, Flynn’s Weekly)
  • “The Apparition of Burling Court” (1925, The Puzzle Lock)
  • “A Mystery of the Sand-Hills” (1925, The Puzzle Lock)
  • “Phyllis Annesley’s Peril” (1925, The Puzzle Lock)
  • “The Seal of Nebuchadnezzar” (1925, The Puzzle Lock)
  • “A Sower of Pestilence” (1925, The Puzzle Lock)
  • “The Magic Casket” (October 9 1926, Flynn’s Weekly)
  • “The Trail of Behemoth” (November 6 1926, Flynn’s Weekly)
  • “The Naturalist at Law” (December 11 1926, Flynn’s Weekly)
  • “Written in Blood” (January 8 1927, Flynn’s Weekly)
  • “Mr. Ponting’s Alibi” (February 5 1927, Flynn’s Detective Fiction)
  • “Left by the Flames” (March 12 1927, Flynn’s Weekly)
  • “The Contents of a Mare’s Nest” (1927, The Magic Casket)
  • “Gleanings from the Wreckage” (1927, The Magic Casket)
  • “The Naturalist at Law” (1927, The Magic Casket)
  • “Pandora’s Box” (1927, The Magic Casket)
  • “The Pathologist to the Rescue” (1927, The Magic Casket)
  • “The Stalking Horse” (1927, The Magic Casket)
  • “The Trail of Behemoth” (1927, The Magic Casket)


  • The Red Thumb Mark (1907)
  • The Eye of Osiris (1911; aka “The Vanishing Man”)
  • The Mystery of 31 New Inn (1912)
  • A Silent Witness (1914)
  • The Mystery of 31 New Inn (1912)
  • A Silent Witness (1914)
  • Helen Vardon’s Confession (1922)
  • The Cat’s Eye (1923)
  • The Mystery of Angelina Frood (1924)
  • The Shadow of the Wolf (1925)
  • The D’Arblay Mystery (1926)
  • A Certain Dr Thorndyke (1927)
  • As a Thief in the Night (1928)
  • Mr Pottermack’s Oversight (1930)
  • Pontifex, Son and Thorndyke (1931)
  • When Rogues Fall Out (1932; aka “Dr. Thorndyke’s Discovery”)
  • Dr Thorndyke Intervenes (1933)
  • For the Defence: Dr Thorndyke (1934)
  • The Penrose Mystery (1936)
  • Felo de se? (1937; aka “Death at the Inn”)
  • The Stoneware Monkey (1938)
  • Mr Polton Explains (1940)
  • The Jacob Street Mystery (1942; aka “The Unconscious Witness”)
  • Goodbye, Dr. Thorndyke (1972; by Norman Donaldson)
  • Dr. Thorndyke’s Dilemma (1974; by John H. Dirckx)


  • John Thorndyke’s Cases (1909)
  • The Singing Bone (1912)
  • Dr. Thorndyke’s Case-Book (1923)
  • The Dr. Thorndyke Omnibus (1932)
  • The Puzzle Lock (1925)
  • The Magic Casket (1927)
  • The Famous Cases of Dr. Thorndyke (1929)
  • Dr. Thorndyke Investigates (1930)
  • Dr. Thorndyke’s Crime File (1941)Includes the essays “Meet Dr. Thorndyke,” “The Art of the Detective Story” and “5A King’s Bench Walk,” plus the novels The Eye of Osiris and The Mystery of Angelina Frood.
  • The Best Dr. Thorndyke Detective Stories (1973)


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with a big tip of the fedora to Monte Herridge for cracking the case.

Leave a Reply