Doctor SynJune 7, 2011
It doesn’t make sense for the early 19th century Kentish town of Dymchurch to have smugglers. It’s got the wrong sort of coastline. What it has got is a well-liked baronet, a pious but down-to-earth vicar given to singing pirate songs and possibly some demons who frolic in the Romney Marsh at night. And maybe smugglers too. That’s what Captain Collyer and his men have come to find out, anyway.
The book goes back and forth between the townspeople and the sailors, and you’re never pushed to choose a side. Nobody is completely likable, except for one fairly minor character who appears late in the book, and the closest thing we get to a protagonist is a rum-drinking twelve year old whose ambition in life is to become a hangman. Doctor Syn, the vicar, is appealing, but seems increasingly dangerous as the book goes on.
I thought the twist was fairly obvious from the beginning, but I expected Russell Thorndyke to take it in a different, lighter direction. Instead, much of the book is sort of chilling. It’s good, though. I kept forming new expectations as I read, and Thorndyke kept surprising me.
Doctor Syn is kind of a weird book. It starts out pretty lighthearted and gets much darker, but that implies a steadier, clearer kind of change than I felt. It’s all over the place. Sometimes you’re hearing from the townspeople, and sometimes you’re hearing from the sailors, and it’s never really clear if you’re supposed to be on anyone’s side.