Sun 22 Jul 2007
R. AUSTIN FREEMAN – The Shadow of the Wolf.
Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1925. House of Stratus, UK, softcover, 2001. Dodd Mead & Co, US, hardcover, 1925. Included in R. Austin Omnibus Volume 3 : Helen Vardon’s Confession;The Cat’s Eye;The Mystery of Angelina Frood;The Shadow of the Wolf , Battered Silicon Box, US, hardcover, 1999.
One of the Psalms speaks of those who go down to the sea in ships and do business in great waters, but such ventures usually do not involve murder. However, this very crime occurs in The Shadow of the Wolf. The reader knows whodunit and why right away and so the novel relates how Dr Thorndyke reasons out the solution to the case.
Messrs Varney and Purcell, old school and college chums now engaged in forging banknotes, quarrel while sailing in the English Channel. Varney wants to end their joint venture but Purcell will not agree. To make matters worse, Purcell married Margaret Haygarth, the woman Varney loved, while the latter was engaged in the dangerous business of passing forged banknotes abroad. A thick fog descends and Varney takes advantage of its concealment to murder Purcell, weight the body, and toss it overboard near the Wolf Rock lighthouse. Once ashore, Varney cleverly lays a false trail giving the impression Purcell has absconded.
The Rodney brothers, medical practitioner Philip and solicitor Jack, own the small yacht borrowed for the fatal voyage, being friends of Varney and the Purcells. They are puzzled by Purcell’s apparent abandonment of his wife, and Varney plays along by pretending to investigate possible sightings of Purcell. In due course Dr Thorndyke is engaged to find the missing man since Mrs Purcell wishes to obtain her freedom either by having her husband legally declared dead or obtaining a divorce, for she suspects he has left her for another woman. Then a mysterious tenant disappears from chambers in Clifford’s Inn, almost on Thorndyke’s doorstep, and this event provides Thorndyke with certain information that ultimately leads to the cracking of the case.
My verdict: A good book for a quiet evening’s read, being slower paced than some Thorndyke novels. Nevertheless the reader’s interest remains engaged while following Thorndyke’s reasoning of the circumstances of the case and how he obtains and confirms the necessary evidence. As a bonus they’ll also learn something about methods of forgery!
Here is a case where, if you weren’t convinced already, having an etext you can read online is going to be a big, big money saver. The least expensive copy of the Dodd Mead edition that I spotted moments ago on Abebooks will set you back you $60. (It’s not the same one, but it is the Dodd edition that you see to the left.) The asking price for the Battered Silicon Box edition is $65, and the cheapest Hodder & Stoughton edition will cost you around $80, including postage from England.
I can’t tell you why, but the Stratus reprint is going for $200. Surprisingly enough, though, you can obtain a copy of the Hodder edition in dust jacket for around $120. At that price, it’s probably a bargain.