R. AUSTIN FREEMAN – The Stoneware Monkey.

Hodder & Stoughton, hardcover, 1938. Dodd Mead & Co, hardcover, 1939. Paperback reprints: Popular Library #11, 1943. Dover, with The Penrose Mystery, 1973.

R. AUSTIN FREEMAN The Stoneware Monkey

   There wasn’t anything in my unread pile that got me excited, so I decided to reread something I haven’t read in probably 30 plus years. This was paired with Freeman’s The Penrose Mystery by Dover and sold in an oversized paperback for the grand price of $4, according to a sticker on the front.

   The first two-thirds is narrated by young Doctor James Oldfield, a former student of Dr. Thorndyke, covering for a vacationing doctor in the village of Newingstead. Returning from a house call, Oldfield hears a police whistle, and, going to investigate, he comes across the body of a mortally injured policeman and is soon joined by another policeman and a diamond merchant named Kempster who has just been robbed.

   The dying policeman had been hit over the head with his own nightstick, which has the left thumbprint of the killer who escaped by stealing Oldfield’s bike.

   A few months later, Dr Oldfield has bought the practice of a deceased doctor in Marylebone, London and is called in when a pottery maker named Peter Gannet is suffering from stomach troubles. When he can’t discover the cause of Gannet’s illness, he seeks the help of his old teacher, Dr. Thorndyke, who diagnoses arsenic poisoning.

The Stoneware Monkey

   Suspicion falls on Gannet’s associate, Frederic Boles, who shares a studio with Gannet and who makes, in Oldfield’s opinion, some ugly jewelry. Gannet recovers after a brief stay in the hospital, invites Oldfield to drop by the studio and even teaches him about pottery making.

   After witnessing a pretty nasty blowup between Gannet and Boles, Oldfield stops going around to the studio until Mrs. Gannet calls upon him. She has just returned from a two week vacation and her husband has disappeared. She has been afraid, however, to go into the studio and asks Oldfield to do so.

   He soon realizes that someone has recently used the kiln and then discovers a small bone that he recognizes as human. Since Mr. Boles has disappeared around the same time as Gannet, it looks like murder. And when the police discover a left thumb print that matches the one of the dead policeman’s nightstick on a piece of Boles’ jewelry, they are more than eager to get hold of him.

The Stoneware Monkey

   The last third of the novel is narrated by Thorndyke’s associate Dr. Jervis, and covers Thorndyke’s investigation of the crime and how he comes up with the solution.

   Well, you can’t call Freeman a colorful writer, though he manages to make the two narrations sufficiently different so they seem to be by two different persons.

   He also takes some amusing pot-shots at what was then Modern Art. The plot twists won’t come as much of a surprise to readers who have read a lot of classic detective stories, but it was an enjoyable re-read. The title, by the way, refers to an ugly piece of sculpture that plays a big part in the solution.