Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Silent Witness: Review

The young Dr. Humphrey Jardine is making his way home after a long night of studying for his final qualifying exam. He takes his favorite path, a pretty winding lane that meanders from Lower Highgate to the heights of Hampstead and pauses in the lamplight to draw out his pipe. He notices what he takes to be a tree root jutting out from a corner that looks quite like a human foot. When he can't recall ever noticing such a thing before he steps closer to inspect this curiosity--only to discover that it really is a human foot...attached to a very dead body.

He hastens off to find a constable, but when they get back to the spot, the dead man has disappeared. Jardine gives a detailed description of the man and the circumstances and the police promise to investigate. Jardine knows full well that they think he's been exaggerating and that the man recovered and walked off under his own power. He also knows that the man wasn't going anywhere all by himself. But Jardine gets wrapped up in starting as a newly-minted doctor at the hospital and forgets about his experience in the lane. 

Until he has another odd experience. This time he is covering the practice of an older doctor and is summoned to attend an emergency case at a local factory. When he gets there, he is greeted by a man whom he never really sees properly, guided into a room, has the door locked on him, and carbonic acid "snow" starts pumping through a vent in the wall. He has a multi-tool pocket knife on him and manages to gouge out a breathing hole in the door which allows him to survive until help can arrive. Fortunately for him, his mentor Dr. Thorndyke does arrive on the scene and gets him out just in time. Two more attempts are made on Jardine's life...but he has no known enemies and can think of no reason why anyone should wish to harm him. Once Dr. Thorndyke hears Jardine's full story of the last several weeks, he begins to see a pattern and a trail that leads to the laboratory and an examination of the ashes of dead man.

The Silent Witness (1914) is the fourth book in R. Austin Freeman's series starring Dr. Thorndyke. Thorndyke is a medical/legal forensic investigator in the Holmes model. He keeps his observations close to his chest--telling Jardine and his own assistant Jervis that they have all the facts and should be able to reason out the solution themselves, but I don't see how they can in the detail that he does. Yes, they did have the rudimentary clues--but Thorndyke follows up on these rudiments and doesn't share those results. However, this doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the story any more than Homes's secretive behavior would detract from his adventures (which is to say--not at all for me). I do enjoy Thorndyke and his interactions with both Jardine and Jervis. Jardine is a little bit exasperating, though. When it comes to walking blindly into danger, the ladies in gothic suspense have nothing on Jardine. Even when warned explicitly by Thorndyke NOT to go wandering around all by his lonesome with an unknown enemy dogging his heels, he still insists on loitering around a deserted bridge oblivious to his surroundings--which is mighty convenient for attempt number two on his life.

Overall, this is an interesting mystery with just a hint of romance. The complete plot is somewhat intricate, but it's not so complex that readers won't be able to work out the solution even if they don't know every detail that Thorndyke does. Some of the narrative carries on a little longer than necessary, but the story comes at the tail-end of a more verbose age. An intriguing and very enjoyable read. ★★

This fulfills the "Doctor" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. That is Jardine lighting his pipe there on the cover....


Anonymous said...

This is sounds great to me Bev, been forever since I read one of his too. And I love the cover - is that your edition?

Bev Hankins said...

Sergio: Yes, that's the edition I own. I try to post the cover of my actual editions when I review.

fredamans said...

I love mysteries that are not easy to see through to the end. This sounds like it will fit that bill.