Friday, 19 March 2010

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

No. 4
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
or The Murder at Road Hill House
by Kate Summerscale

Read or Re-read?
Read. Intrigued by it's cover I picked this up in a charity shop about a year ago. And there it has stayed...

A Fascinating Fact
To be honest picking just one is tricky - the whole book is packed full of them.

The Blurb
The non fictional plot follows one of London's first proper detectives Jack Whicher as he attempts to unravel the shocking and completely perplexing murder of three year old Saville Kent in the Somerset town of Road.

Snatched from his cot in his Nurse's room, his body is found in the grounds of his wealthy families' home, Road Hill House. The shocking savagery of the murder and the fact that it's perpetrator must have been a member of the household sets the Victorian society of 1860 in a frenzy and Mr Whicher is sent from London to get to the bottom of the truth. (The local police having proved disastrously inept.)

Summerscale follows his investigation, and his frustration, as he battles against the locals, the Kent's bizarre family history and the social class divisions of the age. After all only poor people are violent?

Simultaneously she refers regularly to the history of detection (here's where the good facts are) and how Whicher and his colleagues inspired a new genre of novel and a new character; the detective. Both Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins were contemporaries.

Like Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone, Whicher is led (by way of a stained nightdress - same as Cuff!) to the person he thinks is responsible - Saville's older sister, 16 year old Constance.

He has her arrested, but she is later acquitted and Whicher returns to London in disgrace.
Summerscale then traces his and the Kent family's progress in the years after until a shocking confession and surprising discovery lead to the murderer, five years after the crime.

So whodunnit? Well you'll have to read it to find out...

Is it a keeper?
Mmmmmm. I have to admit as much as I found Summerscale's writing style and evident knowledge fascinating, I can't say I love loved this. I think part of the problem was I was expecting a fiction novel, and although the real life story is gripping I found this a little fact heavy, and at times a bit dry.

That said I am a huge fan of the detective novel so it was interesting to read about someone who inspired some of my favourite authors. And much like the Victorians, I also share their morbid curiosity in all things murder mystery. I guess some things don't change!

More like this

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
Bleak House - Charles Dickens


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  2. I would have totally picked up this book based on the cover. Interested still.

  3. It's a great cover isn't it? If you are interested in the genre it's a cracking book - not sure why we didn't quite click!