As much a period piece as a mystery, this novel was published in 1914 and set in a London nearer the turn of the century. The mores and habits of the characters will engage modern readers as much as the story. Thorndyke parallels his more famous contemporary Sherlock Holmes in solving the supposedly unsolvable mystery, in this case extracting valuable clues by the scientific analysis of a cremated body.
His reliance on science, often medical, as opposed to intuition and observation distinguishes Thorndyke from Holmes. Their stories parallel in many characteristic. Both are surrounded by bumbling fools, to highlight their genius. The stories are told from the point of view of one such fool, never that of the principal, heightening the wonder of discovery. The story opens with an apparent paradox or unsolvable crime (often not recognized by the authorities as a crime or they hie after the obvious, but wrong suspect.
Just like modern crime scene investigation series, the speed of tests and communications is absurd. We may have smart phones, but 1900 London had telegraph, runners and multiple mail deliveries each day.
And so it is here. Additionally, said narrating fool is so careless of his own safety as to be borderline suicidal and an additional victim.
It’s an engaging tale but not everyone’s cup of tea.