Before Kathy Reichs’s Temperance Brennan and Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, there was Dr. Thorndyke, the first ever fictional forensic scientist.
The only evidence against young Reuben Hornby in a jewel theft is his thumb print smeared in blood. It is enough to convict him of the crime until physician Dr. John Thorndyke dares to ask—and answer—the question, “Can a fingerprint be forged?”
The first detective novel to engage in scientific technology, The Red Thumb Mark has become a classic for its use of real science and its introduction to the genre’s very first and greatest forensic scientist, Dr. Thorndyke. Described by Otto Penzler as “the greatest medico-legal detective of all time,” the tall, athletic, and handsome Dr. Thorndyke approaches crime solving firmly grounded in the disciplines and logic of medical science, making inferences from data collected at the scene of the crime instead of basing the investigation on the suspects’ motivations. First published in 1907, R. Austin Freeman’s tale set the stage for the forensic science detective novel we are so familiar with today, and it remains one of the greatest and most memorable of the genre.
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