R. Austin Freeman: The Art of the Detective Story

R. Austin Freeman

R. Austin Freeman, sitting outside the pale of literature, looking in.

Judging by the letters which I have received from time to time, the enthusiast par excellence is the clergyman of a studious and scholarly habit.

In a second bid to join in Kaggsy and Simon’s 1924 Club, I located the text of R. Austin Freeman’s essay The Art of the Detective Story.

Freeman is famous both as the inventor of the inverted mystery (see my review of 1912’s The Singing Bone) and as a master technician of the genre. His scientist-detective Dr Thorndyke is never far from his pocket laboratory. The stories are excellent short reads, and if you read nothing else by him, try ‘The Case of Oscar Brodski’, which depicts a career criminal finally losing his head in the face of overwhelming temptation.

Freeman seems to have written his essay in a slightly defensive mood:

By the critic and the professedly literary person the detective story — to adopt the unprepossessing name by which this class of fiction is now universally known — is apt to be dismissed contemptuously as outside the pale of literature…

And why is that? Basically, because so much of the genre is rubbish.

The explanation is probably to be found in the great proportion of failures; in the tendency of the tyro and the amateur perversely to adopt this difficult and intricate form for their ‘prentice efforts.


the falling off in quality of the work of regular novelists when they experiment in this department of fiction.

More on the essay later, but meanwhile I thought it would be interesting to hear people’s thoughts – arguments for and against his proposition. Especially, what about crime fiction by regular novelists?


About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in Witness Statements and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to R. Austin Freeman: The Art of the Detective Story

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Crime fiction by regular novelists is a tricky one, because most of my favourite crime novelists only wrote that genre! Having said that, Sayers’ books (to take only one example) stand as strong literary works *despite* the criminal element – so you could end up arguing that some crime books are better written than the tons of churned out formula written works of today! I’ll be interested to hear what else he has to say (and glad you could find something to join in with the 1924 Club!)


  2. Pingback: R. Austin Freeman: The Art of the Detective Story (2) | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

  3. Pingback: The 1924 Club is here! | Stuck in a Book

  4. Sounds like an essay written to defend himself after a bad review. At a guess, as he was writing in a new style for crime fiction, he was getting some flack, so he wanted to explain why his books were great despite what people who read them actually thought…


Make a statement...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s