In "The Case of the White Footprints" in Dr. Thorndyke's Case-Book (1923) by R. Austin Freeman, Dr. Jervis said to his friend that the chief officer found fingerprints in the crime scene after Dr. Jervis himself found peculiar footprints, saying:

"I think so, excepting that I learned from Foxton that Superintendent Platt has obtained the complete fingerprints of a right hand."

Thorndyke raised his eyebrows. "Fingerprints!" he exclaimed. "Why, the fellow must be a mere simpleton. But there," he added, "everybody—police, lawyers, judges, even Galton himself—seems to lose every vestige of common sense as soon as the subject of fingerprints is raised. But it would be interesting to know how he got them and what they are like. We must try to find that out. However, to return to your case, since your theory and the police theory are probably the same, we may as well consider the value of your inferences.

Why would the subject of the fingerprints make everybody lose their common sense?

Does it mean that "because the footprints are already peculiar, there are no logical use for the fingerprints"?

And does "the fellow" mean "the murderer or the Superintendent Platt"?


Fingerprinting was still a relatively new and "cutting edge" technique:

1901 - Sir Edward Henry, an Inspector General of Police in Bengal, India, develops the first system of classifying fingerprints. ... This system of classifying fingerprints was first adopted as the official system in England, and eventually spread throughout.

Thus, the police are likely to jump onto fingerprint evidence the same way we often do DNA evidence, or digital signatures, as absolute proof. Dr. Thorndyke is annoyed because he feels they will ignore the other evidence in favor of the fingerprints.

And yes, I think "the fellow" does refer to the Superintendent.

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  • Very helpful answer as usual. Thank you so much @Sean Duggan – Ahmed Samir Jul 28 at 15:23

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