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The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective Paperback – February 17, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; Reprint edition (February 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080271742X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717429
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Summerscale (The Queen of Whale Cay) delivers a mesmerizing portrait of one of England's first detectives and the gruesome murder investigation that nearly destroyed him. In 1860, three-year-old Saville Kent was found murdered in the outdoor privy of his family's country estate. Local police scrambled for clues, but to no avail. Scotland Yard Det.-Insp. Jonathan Jack Whicher was called in and immediately suspected the unthinkable: someone in the Kent family killed Saville. Theories abounded as everyone from the nursemaid to Saville's father became a suspect. Whicher tirelessly pursued every lead and became convinced that Constance Kent, Saville's teenage half-sister, was the murderer, but with little evidence and no confession, the case went cold and Whicher returned to London, a broken man. Five years later, the killer came forward with a shocking account of the crime, leading to a sensational trial. Whicher is a fascinating hero, and readers will delight in following every lurid twist and turn in his investigation. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“[A] fastidious reconstruction and expansive analysis of the Road Hill murder case…Summerscale smartly uses an energetic narrative voice and a suspenseful pace, among other novelistic devices, to make her factual material read with the urgency of a work of fiction.”—New York Times Book Review


“A terrific book.”—Nicholson Baker


“A brilliant reconstruction of the obstacles facing detectives long before the advent of forensic technology.”—L.A. Times Book Review


“Not just a dark, vicious true-crime story; it is the story of the birth of forensic science, founded on the new and disturbing idea that innocent, insignificant domestic details can reveal unspeakable horrors to those who know how to read them.”—Time


“One eloquent doozy of a true-crime thriller. A-”—Entertainment Weekly


The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher combines a thumping good mystery yarn with fine social and literary history.”—Fresh Air


“This is a great biographical fiction of an interesting real life mid nineteenth century detective working a shocking homicide case.”—


“Fascinating.”—Denver Post


“If you are a mystery lover, or if you have ever wondered how the modern love of the genre began, you’ll enjoy Summerscale’s tracing of the early days of the profession and the fascination it exerted...a fascinating look at Victorian life, death and detection.”—Associated Press


“In crime annals, it’s right up there with the Lindbergh trial or the mystery surrounding JonBenet Ramsey: In 1860, one of Scotland Yard's finest was sent to solve the murder of a little boy at an upscale address near London. It turned out Jack Whicher’s hunch was right, and his footwork fed the public imagination as well as writers such as Charles Dickens. Sadly, failure to clinch the case in court upended Whicher’s career.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune


“Takes you back to a specific place and time with all the imagination and skill of a top-tier historical novelist. You hang on every word, flipping pages faster than you can read them….If you like your murder mysteries wrapped up in a neat little package, this isn’t the book for you.  But if you’re looking for a complex, intellectually stimulating thriller that will leave you breathless, well, this mystery is well worth inspecting.”—Fairfield County Weekly


“Summerscale’s clean writing makes The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher so dynamic that she can’t be accused of “freezing” the past—instead, she has done a masterly job of reviving it, with all its curiosities and contradictions. But, most strikingly, she has created an enthralling mystery by overlaying the fictional tools of misdirection and suspense onto a nonfiction narrative that, in its day, helped inspire writers to create a new fictional genre—a strange and very impressive feat.”—American Scholar


“Told and interwoven with admirable skill and definition.”—Bookpage


“A bang-up sleuthing adventure.”—Kirkus Reviews


“A mesmerizing portrait of one of England’s first detectives and the gruesome murder investigation that nearly destroyed him…Whicher is a fascinating hero, and readers will delight in following every lurid twist and turn in his investigation.”—Publishers Weekly, (starred review)


“Summerscale organizes the book like a period novel, with a denouement that suggests that full justice was never done. Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City) fans will be enthralled.”—Library Journal

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Customer Reviews

The prototype of this sleuth was Mr. Whicher, the "real" detective who solves the real Kent murder.
I will say that I have seen at least one review of this book that complains that has "too much detail", and doesn't read sufficiently like a story.
Odd pacing, and because the book never reaches a strong conclusion it feels like it just trails off ...
Mark Fossen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

146 of 152 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on April 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderfully done true crime story of a murder in England in 1860. If that were all, we'd have an eminently enjoyable book. But this is also a social commentary and a history of the early detective story: you'll learn how and when the words "clueless" and "sleuth" entered the language, for example. You have a horrible murder of a 3-year-old boy in a manor house in the country. The outside doors, windows, and gates are all locked--and also, unusual for us nowadays, many of the interior doors were locked as well--preventing access to the larder, cellar, drawing-room, etc. So suspicion perforce falls upon the family and servants. This is before the days of forensic science--so it isn't even clear whether the child was killed by stabbing, throat-cutting, suffocation, or drowning. The local constabulary in this west England area are inadequate to the task in what very quickly becomes a sensationalist case, and so a detective from London is called in to investigate.

Detectives are new, only a couple of decades old, as are detective stories. Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher is Scotland Yard's best investigator (at the time, there weren't all that many). The child's family is not very well liked in the area, and the family itself has many unsavory secrets--including insanity. Summerscale relates Whicher's detective work and his growing fixation upon a 16-year-old sister. But what makes all of this particularly enjoyable is how Summerscale relates the sensationalism in the press, the plethora of theories as to the murder, the coming-forth of outsiders to confess, the initial belief in Whicher's abilities (followed by growing disbelief).
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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on May 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
We always think of detectives and crime-solving as things that have gone on for centuries. In actual fact, Edgar Alan Poe invented the detective story in 1841, and the next year the British set up their first detective police to solve crimes where the criminal wasn't immediately apparent. For much of the 19th century these individuals were essentially making it up as they went along, and dealing with a variety of public prejudices (bobbies originally had to wear their uniforms all the time, to avoid corruption and the possibility of them sneaking up on someone) and strange practices to invent, as they went along, the craft of crime-solving.

In 1860, 18 years after the detective department was founded (they had offices in a square in downtown London known as Scotland Yard, hence the name) a young boy was killed in rural England. His throat was cut rather viciously, and he was thrown into a privy. The house in which he lived with his family was very large, and since the doors were locked, it seemed inevitable that the killer must be either a family member or a servant. After two weeks of inexpert investigation, which solved nothing, the local police petitioned London to send a Scotland Yard detective. The one they got was one of four Detective Inspectors, Jack Whicher, who according to the author was one of the original detectives who essentially invented his craft. His assistant, "Dolly" Williamson, went on to be superintendent of Scotland Yard during the `70s and `80s.

Whicher settled pretty quickly on who he believed was the culprit, but he was unable to obtain a confession and had scant physical evidence. He made an arrest, but the family closed ranks, and ultimately there was no immediate conclusion to the killing. This destroyed Whicher's career.
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164 of 184 people found the following review helpful By Okie Writer on August 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The reviewers here, especially the paid ones, do readers a disservice when they praise the mystery aspects of this book without emphasizing the unending details with which the author has bogged down the book. It's hard to believe these newspaper and magazine reviewers read the book in its entirety?

Is this a story of Jonathan Whicher and the creation of the police detective? Or a lesson in Victorian families? Maybe it's a general history of the origins of the detective in mystery novels? What it is not, is a well-edited, real-life mystery with historical details peppered in to add context. Someone give this book a real editor and reign in the ramblings of a research-happy writer.

It is obvious that the writer spent years compiling data and scouring diaries and other sources to include personal information to enhance the narrative. But the way they are used only serve to stall the flow of the story, not to enrich it. The writer interrupts herself so often, you could be excused for thinking there were multiple authors. There is so much repetition that you can begin to feel you've already read this or that paragraph.

This book is not a narrative, but a museum. Every detail, however mundane, is included. Everything the writer found in her research is in the book, many repeated several times. I applaud the author on her diligence and thoroughness in gathering every possible piece of data. In fact, I place some of the blame on the editor for not doing his/her job. A great researcher cannot necessarily be expected to be a great condenser. That's where the publishing company is supposed to come in.

There are a couple of good stories in this book. You will just have to wade through a lot of unnecessary facts to find them.
If someone had warned me, I'd have checked it out of the library instead of spending money to own this book.
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