R. Austin Freeman Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

R. Austin Freeman is perhaps most significant as one of the inventors of the inverted detective story, in which the reader observes the crime being committed from the criminal’s point of view and then shifts to that of the detective to watch the investigation and solution of the puzzle. These stories depend on the reader’s interest in the process of detection, rather than on the desire to know “who done it.”

Freeman’s most important character, Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke, was the first true scientific investigator, a realistic, utterly believable character whose solutions relied more on esoteric knowledge and laboratory analysis than on intuition, psychology, or physical force. As opposed to those who study people, Thorndyke is interested only in things. Though all necessary clues are laid out before the reader, it would be a rare reader, indeed, who was sufficiently versed in Egyptology, chemistry, anatomy, or archaeology to make sense of all the evidence.

The Thorndyke stories, intended in part to educate the reader about criminology, are nevertheless filled with believable and attractive characters, love interests, interesting settings, and vivid descriptions of London fogs, dense woods, and seafaring vessels.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Chapman, David Ian. R. Austin Freeman: A Bibliography. Shelburne, Ont.: Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2000. Useful bibliography of the author’s works.

Donaldson, Norman. Donaldson on Freeman: Being the Introductions and Afterwords from the R. Austin Freeman Omnibus Volumes. Shelburne, Ont.: Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2000. Collects together Donaldson’s commentaries on Freeman’s novels, revealing the trajectory of the author’s evolution, as well as the importance of his fiction.

Donaldson, Norman. In Search of Dr. Thorndyke: The Story of R. Austin Freeman’s Great Scientific Investigator and His Creator. Rev. ed. Shelburne, Ont.: Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 1998. Study of Freeman’s most famous character and his inspirations in the author’s life and experiences.

Donaldson, Norman. “R. Austin Freeman: The Invention of Inversion.” In The Mystery Writer’s Art, edited by Francis M. Nevins, Jr. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1970. Focuses on Freeman’s device of showing the murderer’s activities before introducing the detective.

Galloway, Patricia. “Yngve’s Depth Hypothesis and the Structure of Narrative: The Example of Detective Fiction.” In The Analysis of Meaning: Informatics 5, edited by Maxine MacCafferty and Kathleen Gray. London: Aslib, 1979. Looks at Freeman’s works as a case study to understand the particular structure of narrative deployed by detective fiction.

Kestner, Joseph A. The Edwardian Detective, 1901-1915. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 2000. A tightly focused study of the British detective genre.

Mayo, Oliver. R. Austin Freeman: The Anthropologist at Large. Hawthorndene, S.Aust.: Investigator Press, 1980. Study of Freeman’s use of anthropology in his works. Bibliographic references and index.