Richard Austin Freeman (11 April 1862 – 28 September 1943) was a British writer of detective stories, mostly featuring the medico-legal forensic investigator Dr. Thorndyke. He claimed to have invented the inverted detective story (a crime fiction in which the commission of the crime is described at the beginning, usually including the identity of the perpetrator, with the story then describing the detective’s attempt to solve the mystery). Freeman used some of his early experiences as a colonial surgeon in his novels.
Austin Freeman was the youngest of the five children of tailor Richard Freeman and Ann Maria Dunn. He first trained as an apothecary and then studied medicine at Middlesex Hospital, qualifying in 1887. The same year he married Annie Elizabeth, with whom he had two sons. He entered the Colonial Service and was sent to Accra on the Gold Coast. In 1891 he returned to London after suffering from blackwater fever but was unable to find a permanent medical position, and so decided to settle down in Gravesend and earn money from writing fiction, while continuing to practise medicine. His first stories were written in collaboration with John James Pitcairn (1860–1936), medical officer at Holloway Prison, and published under the nom de plume “Clifford Ashdown”. His first Thorndyke story, The Red Thumb Mark, was published in 1907, and shortly afterwards he pioneered the inverted detective story, in which the identity of the criminal is shown from the beginning. Some short stories with this feature were collected in The Singing Bone in 1912. During the First World War he served as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps and afterwards produced a Thorndyke novel almost every year until his death in 1943. The Dr. Thorndyke Mysteries series is comprised of of 21 novels and 40 short stories, which were released between the years 1907 and 1942. The house where he died, 94 Windmill Street in Gravesend, is now Thorndyke’s Nursing Home.
Dr Thorndyke Novels:
The Red Thumb Mark (1907); The Eye of Osiris aka The Vanishing Man (1911); 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 aka Dr. Thorndyke’s Discovery (1932); Dr Thorndyke Intervenes (1933); For the Defence: Dr Thorndyke (1934); The Penrose Mystery (1936); Felo De Se? aka Death At the Inn (1937); The Stoneware Monkey (1938); Mr Polton Explains (1940); and The Jacob Street Mystery aka The Unconscious Witness (1942).
Dr Thorndyke Short stories: John Thorndyke’s Cases aka Dr. Thorndyke’s Cases (1909); The Singing Bone aka The Adventures of Dr. Thorndyke (1912); Dr. Thorndyke’s Casebook aka The Blue Scarab (1923); The Puzzle Lock (1925); and The Magic Casket (1927).
Note: All the short stories from the above five collections are also available in The Dr. Thorndyke Short Story Omnibus.
(Facsimile Dust Jacket Hodder & Stoughton (UK) (1911)
Raymond Chandler, author of detective novels of a very different type, described him [R. Austin Freeman] in a letter as ‘a wonderful performer . . . he is also a much better writer than you might think, if you were superficially inclined, because in site of the immense leisure of his writing, he accomplishes an even suspense which is quite unexpected.’ (Source: Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books).