Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Unconscious Witness: Review

Unconscious Witness (1942) by R. Austin Freeman is the 28th entry in the Dr. Thorndyke series. It involves an artist who is out sketching and manages to see the beginnings of a rather involved crime. Little does Tom Pedley know when two men walk past his hidden sketching spot (he can see them, but they can't see him) and a woman comes sneaking along behind them that his impressions and a quick sketch drawn afterward will help Dr. Thorndyke unravel two murders and solve the disappearance of a woman by the name of Mrs. Schiller. Of the two men, one is Charles Montagu and he will not return from the walk in the woods.

When Montagu is found dead, authorities know that there was an artist in the vicinity, but are unable to trace him immediately. Pedley doesn't own a wireless and rarely looks at a newspaper, so he finds out about the murder just before the police track him down. Since he's known to Mr. Polton, an associate of Dr. Thorndyke's, the police are more willing to accept his reasons for not coming forward than they might otherwise be--but his detailed description of the events of that day and even his sketch of the people involved give the police little help in unraveling the mystery.

It isn't until another artist, Lotta Schiller, takes up residence in a house nearby, makes his acquaintance and then disappears that his evidence proves more useful. And when the body of woman who has gone under the name Emma Robey is found in Mrs. Schiller's abandoned rooms things get really complicated--found most providentially by Mr. Polton which brings Dr. Thorndyke into the case. Dr. Thorndyke's sharp eye sees what the police and even Pedley with his artist's eye for detail have missed.

I have to say that thist was a pretty disappointing entry into the adventures of Dr. Thorndyke. The doctor doesn't show up until well past the half-way mark and then most of his investigations and deductions are made off-page. And the build-up with Pedley in the first half was unnecessarily long and pretty boring. A good editing might make a this into a much more enjoyable novella. My other quibble--Thorndyke doesn't really explain the motive behind the first murder. I realize that motive isn't everything--but I'd really like to know why Montagu had to die. ★★ and a half

This counts for the "Hand Holding Weapon" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. And...just so you know, that scene on the cover of my Avon edition pictured above never happened in the book.

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