The Eye of Osiris: A Dr. John Thorndyke Story by R. Austin Freeman (1911)
Sometimes one is disappointed when reading a “classic” wondering just what it was that made others rate a book so highly. That has happened to this reviewer often enough to make approaching “must-reads” and “classics” filled with trepidation. In this case, however, the reasons why so many have included this book on their lists of “great mysteries” are obvious. This is a delightfully written, nicely-placed and eminently fair example of detective fiction.
Freeman makes the interesting choice of having the book written from the point of view of Paul Berkeley, a recently qualified doctor and former student of Thorndyke. Jervis, the narrator of the first two Thorndyke books, has not disappeared but it is no longer through his eyes that the reader witnesses events. This allows the narrator to not see all that Thorndyke does without making him irredeemably slow and unteachable. Thus there are times that the reader, already familiar with Thorndyke’s methods, will be able to infer more from things that Berkeley hears, sees or read than does he.
Beyond here there lie spoilers.
In addition to providing the reader with an excellent story of deduction and reasoning Freeman also writes one of the few believable and sympathetic love stories this reviewer has come across in the detective and mystery stories written at this time. Ruth is not simply a sweet Victorian girl she has a believable personality and an interesting mind. One understands exactly why Berkeley is drawn to her and one can watch the way their relationship progresses from being strangers, to individuals with shared interests, to becoming friends and then realizing that they have fallen love. None of it is strained nor is it extraneous. Berkeley is given believable motivations for his actions through the book.
Freeman plays so fairly with his readers that if the reader is well-versed in the detective fiction of the time they will have suspicions and inklings of understanding before at the end the truth is revealed. Yet this in no way diminishes from the enjoyment of following the story and from finding out the indications and clues one missed. No anvils are used nor does the author fall back on obfuscation.
This reader regretted the moment when the last page was turned and the story ended but then was cheered by the knowledge that there is another Thorndyke book on the “to read” shelf.
Rating: 4-1/2 stars