Saturday, 6 February 2021

The Red Thumb Mark

AuthorR. Austin Freeman
First Published1907
Ebook Publisher: Various
Ebook Date: Various

When it comes to forensic investigation there is one literary character that stands head and shoulders above all others. The undisputed original template for television shows such as Bones, Waking the Dead and Crime Scene Investigation, with all of its spin-offs, CSI: Miami/Vegas/etc. 

The character is Dr. John Thorndyke, created by English writer Richard Austin Freeman in the early years of the twentieth century.

Thorndyke made his debut in the 1907 story The Red Thumb Mark. In it, he is ably assisted by his university friend Dr. Christopher Jervis, and his 'man' - the highly talented laboratory assistant Polton. The medico-legal expert resides at 5A King's Bench Walk located in the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in the City of London, England. The area has been well-known for many years as the center of London legal offices.

Freeman was open about Thorndyke being influenced by Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes character - but added that he wanted to infuse him with his own medical and legal experiences to embellish his consulting detective with an air of the (then) modern forensic methods, in order to separate him from the crowd.

In his own words from later introductions of his collected stories, Freeman says,
...I asked myself whether it might not be possible to devise a detective story of a slightly different kind - one based on the science of Medical Jurisprudence, in which, by the sacrifice of a certain amount of dramatic effect, one could keep entirely within the facts of real life, with nothing fictitious excepting the persons and the events.
Richard Austin Freeman lived between 1862 and 1943. Born in Britain, he went to medical school at the Middlesex Hospital where he qualified at the age of 24. After marriage, he and his family moved to Ghana, where he was a surgeon for the Colonial Services. Following many travels around the African continent he became ill and was sent home in 1891.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Wagon Train to the Stars (Star Trek New Earth #1)

AuthorDiane Carey
First Published: 1999
File size/Pages: 1225KB / 265pp
Ebook Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Ebook Date: July 2012

Continuing my 2021 Challenge, the next book is the first in the Star Trek miniseries New Earth. Written by Diane Carey and published in 1999, this series deals with the exodus of humans bent on settling a new colony far from Federation and Starfleet control, in the star system known as Occult.

The New Earth series was devised to be solely concerned with The Original Series (TOS) crew of the Enterprise, unlike other miniseries that had gone before which flitted across the various time periods of the Trek universe. John Ordover, editor of the licensed novels between 1992 and 2003, devised the concept from his own reaction to the television series, Voyager. He was dissatisfied with the lack of Voyager's crew having any 'turf' to defend other than their own ship. He wondered what kind of stories could come out of a colony being settled far outside the common galaxy or from Earth's influence, yet having a Starfleet crew and ship assigned to protect that settlement and also expand the Federation's reach from that new home base. There is a widely believed story that Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek, when touting the idea of the new series described it as "Wagon Train to the Stars". This was Pocket Books chance to carry out that theme in fiction format.

Diane Carey is an American author born in 1954. She began her career writing romance novels under the pen name of Lydia Gregory. Now best known for her works in the Star Trek universes, she wrote two of the inaugral books in the Trek lines, Broken Bow for Star Trek: Enteprise, and Ghost Ship for Star Trek The Next Generation. By 1999 she had many Trek books already under her wing and went on to author (or co-author) three of the six New Earth installments.

Monday, 4 January 2021

Jedi Twilight (Star Wars Coruscant Nights #1)

: Michael Reaves (James Michael Reaves)
First Published: 2008
File size/Pages: 596KB / 188pp
Ebook Publisher: Cornerstone Digital
Ebook Date: Oct 2012

For the first entry in my 2021 Challenge, I decided to choose the first novel in the Star Wars Coruscant Nights trilogy, Jedi Twilight, written by Michael Reaves. As I've previously said in my review of Heirs of the Force (Star Wars Young Jedi Knights #1) I have a problem with the Star Wars expanded universe books. 

I don't find reading about the adventures of Luke, Leia or Han Solo that engaging. Added to this, in my eyes no other villains can match up to the gravitas of Darth Vader or The Emporer. I've tried over the years, but it just hasn't worked out for me. So, when I decided to choose Star Wars EU as one of the 2021 Challenges, I had to pick carefully. To be honest, it was a toss up between this trilogy and the X-Wing series (mainly because I do not believe either of them feature any of the holy trinity) and this one came out on top.

And this is where it pains me to have to admit that I have actually read this book in the past. I have no idea what came to mind, but as I was about halfway through the novel I started to get a strange sense of deja vu. [It's now rather embarrassing to read my blog of Splinter of the Mind's Eye in November 2019 and realise I remembered reading it back when I wrote that blog entry, but not 12 month's later - I must be getting old!]. Anyway, suffice to say, I read the whole book through - this review isn't conceived from a long distant memory.

Michael Reaves was born James Michael in America in 1950. His work spans many mediums including film, television, tie-in novels, children's books and original short and long fiction. Beginning in the 1980s he has written for an impressive number of animated shows. His script contributions span numerous series such as Batman, Spiderman, Conan, He-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Ghostbusters, Superman, Godzilla, Droids and Ewoks as well as many others. He is also no slouch when it comes to live action; series such as Swamp Thing, Star Trek The Next Generation, Captain Power, The Twilight Zone and even Father Dowling Mysteries commissioned his work.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

My New Year Challenge

As 2020 comes to end I find myself thinking about the books I've read over the last twelve months and the books I'd like to read next year. There are so many good books I would love to be able to experience. But I always end up telling myself - the best thing to do is simply choose the ones you know you will have a more than better chance of liking. Life's too short to plough diligently through something you hate (although I've broken that personal rule a few times to be completely honest).

Therefore, in 2021, I've set myself a New Year's Challenge. Over the course of the year I will be reading a series of books across four well-known genre 'universes'. But to ensure I have a pretty good chance of getting through them all, I have picked from series that I know I'm going to like - at least from personal experience in the past that is. As you clearly can see from this post's main picture I have selected from Star Wars, Star Trek, James Bond and Musashi.

All of the books are currently available in eBook format. I haven't read any of them before but they have been on my radar for a while. I tried to keep the books within the 20th Century, but had to make a few exceptions. I don't want the challenge to disrupt my blogging completely so I am restricting the challenge to a total of 19 books. Seeing as I get through roughly 50 per year, I believe this will still allow me the time to dip in and out of the challenge and still keep Digital Bibliophilia a location for a varied review site of genre fiction.

Sunday, 6 December 2020


Author: Oliver Jacks (aka Kenneth Royce)
Publisher: Grafton Books
Date: 1986
Pages: 254
Not currently available in eBook format

In one of those happy coincidences, I was attracted to a previously unknown author's book by its cover artwork, only to find out out it was actually a pen name used by an established and well-known writer.

Breakout is a thriller published in 1986 in the UK by Grafton Books. The author is Oliver Jacks, who I'd not had any previous experience of reading. Some light internet research didn't surface much of a backlog. A few other thriller/action adventure tales in the 70's and 80's but nothing outstanding or particularly well-known. It seemed that Mr Jacks penned another four books (Man on a Short LeashAssassination Day and Autumn Heroes) but had disappeared by the nineties. Jacks doesn't have much of a presence on the internet and doesn't even have a page dedicated to him on Fantastic Fiction.

However, after finishing the story, I persevered in my studies and started to notice something. Along with Jacks name I noticed a listing that coupled one of his books with the name Kenneth Royce. This rang a bell and a quick reference back to the Appendix of Mike Ripley's excellent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang confirmed that indeed Oliver Jacks was a name used by thriller writer Kenneth Royce. It seemed I had inadvertently landed the final Jacks book in his quartet of standalone tales.

Royce was born in 1920 in Croydon, UK. He served in the British Armed Forces during the Second World War, raising to the rank of Captain. After the war he became involved in running a travel agency which afforded him the perfect position to conduct research on the background to his many books. It was with the Spider Scott series that he rose to fame. Spider is an ex-burglar who can't quite give up the temptations of crime and who is recruited to work for the secret services. Scott became known as the XYY Man due to his extra 'Y' chromosome giving him a pre-disposition towards criminality.

Monday, 16 November 2020

The Memoirs of Solar Pons

Author: August Derleth
First Published: 1951
File size/Pages: 1373KB / 251pp
Ebook Publisher: Belanger Books
Ebook Date: Jun 2018

Despite what may have been published in the 1970's, the second collection of cases for Solar Pons was actually The Memoirs of Solar Pons. So in keeping with the republished and reformatted ebooks by Belanger Books I am following their sequence and downloaded the next chronological installement of the adventures of the most famous of Sherlock Holmes successors.

Memoirs sees author August Derleth in fine form. He weaves Holmesian influences, references and homage into his second book about Solar Pons, the private detective who uses prodigious powers of observation and deduction to solve crimes in 1920's and 1930's London, from his base in an apartment at 7B Praed Street. There is even a reference to that other man of exceptional detecting talent, Dr. John Thorndyke (I'd recommend grabbing a copy of the The Red Thumb Mark or The Eye of Osiris if you can). Derleth cleverly manages to squeak in a sneaky appearance of Lovecraftian literature, which adds a bit of spice to one of the tales (see below).

There are eleven stores, one less than in Regarding Sherlock Holmes - however, these are in my opinion far superior in structure and in the telling. Derleth is able to weave more variety and greater story-building into Memoirs than he did before. The stakes are higher, the need to deduct more quickly is evident, and the supporting characters are more finely drawn. It's clear that the author had improved in his wirting skills at this time. Despite my miss-givings with the first book, this one starts well and, with only a few exceptions, holds its interest throughout. A number of the tales are longer in form, allowing for more interaction between Pons, his assistant Dr Lyndon Parker, suspects, and Police Detective Jamison.

Pons' relationship with Parker begins to take a different slant over Holmes and Watson in this collection I feel. Whereas Holmes elicits some comradeship and even a little brotherly love towards Dr Watson - Dr Parker doesn't appear to receive the same treatment from his exceptionally talented partner. There is a more critical vein running through Soalr Pons. He is only too quick to put Parker down, and seems to relish it more than Holmes ever did with Watson (or perhaps I'm more familiar with the later and have a tendancy to over romanticize it?).