The Silent WitnessMay 31, 2010
I like R. Austin Freeman. Really. He’s cool, Doctor Thorndyke is cool, The Eye of Osiris is extremely cool, etc.
The Silent Witness is ridiculous.
As point-of-view characters in mystery novels go, Dr. Thorndyke’s temporary assistants are…well, not great, but extremely unobjectionable. So I don’t have any problems with Dr. Humphrey Jardine personally. I do, however, have a few problems with the plot.
There are five separate attempts on Jardine’s life over the course of the book. Five. I mean, unless I’m forgetting one. In my opinion, that is too many, especially since it should be obvious to the villain that Jardine is not aware that he knows anything that might make him worth killing. All the frequent attempted murders only attract Dr. Thorndyke’s attention, and that’s a bad thing for a villain, because Dr. Thorndyke is the kind of guy who spends his free time making up crimes and imagining how he would investigate them in order to practice for the real ones.
So: too many murder attempts, not enough justification. Also: too many coincidences.
Dr. Jardine likes to take walks along the edge of Hampstead Heath. One evening, he comes across a dead body near an isolated cottage. He goes and finds a policeman, but when he comes back, the body is gone. The next day, he finds a gold reliquary near where the body had been. Later in the book, he happens to share a train compartment with someone who recognizes the reliquary.
There is a girl for Dr. Jardine to fall in love with. Her name is Sylvia Vyne, and she and Jardine often meet while sketching on the Heath. They get acquainted when Jardine helps Sylvia escape a stranger who insists that the crucifix she wears is his.
One day Dr. Jardine runs into his former teacher, Dr. Thorndyke, who asks him to take over for a week the practice of a Dr. Batson, who is going on vacation. Before he leaves, Dr. Batson signs a death certificate for a man who appears to have died of heart trouble. Jardine is present at the examination of the body, and somehow attracts the attention of the man’s nurse, Mrs. Samway, who proceeds to show up pretty much everywhere Jardine goes for the rest of the book.
Don’t those kind of sound like setups for three different mystery novels? And yet everything turns out to be related. And sure, that’s a thing that happens in mysteries, but it did seem like a bit much. However, I might have been reconciled to all the ridiculousness if Dr. Thorndyke had been given a little more page-time.
If you’d like to read a more favorable review, there’s one over at Mystery File.