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The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective Hardcover – April 15, 2008
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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.)
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“The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective," by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury). 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.” ―Margo Hammond and Ellen Heltzell, 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
“[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. What she has constructed, specifically, is a traditional country-house mystery, more brutal than cozy, but presenting the same kind of intellectual puzzle as her fictional models and adorned, as such books once were, with wonderfully old-fashioned maps, diagrams, engravings, courtroom sketches and other illustrations…More important, Summerscale accomplishes what modern genre authors hardly bother to do anymore, which is to use a murder investigation as a portal to a wider world. When put in historical context, every aspect of this case tells us something about mid-Victorian society…The author's startling final twist both vindicates her fallen hero and advances an ‘aggressive' attack on moral hypocrisy in his day and ours.” ―Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
“Reads like a modern crime novel, filled with intriguing tidbits about the beginnings of criminal detection and the modern mystery crime novel.” ―K. Sue Collins, The Tampa Tribune
“A terrific book...opens up a dark door in the Victorian credenza--dense with detail, and yet with a nimbleness to the writing that's unusual even for a very good detective story.” ―Nicholson Baker
“A brilliant reconstruction of the obstacles facing detectives long before the advent of forensic technology.” ―Nick Owchar, LA Times Book Review
“Kate Summerscale's THE SUSPICIONS OF MR. WHICHER (Walker; 360 pages) is 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.” ―Lev Grossman, Time
“One eloquent doozy of a true-crime thriller.” ―Entertainment Weekly, Grade A-
“The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher" combines a thumping good mystery yarn with fine social and literary history.” ―Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“This is a great biographical fiction of an interesting real life mid nineteenth century detective working a shocking homicide case.” ―Harriet Klausner, Mysterylovers.com
“Fascinating.” ―Roger Miller, 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” ―Mary Foster, Associated Press
“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.” ―Britt Peterson, The 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
“Summerscale has produced not only a dazzling non-fiction thriller, but also an acute work of literary and social history.” ―The Daily Express
“Kate Summerscale's book is a tour de force. It sweeps us irresistibly into the investigation, turning us into armchair detectives… Under the spell of [her] scrupulous intelligence and mesmerizing research, we are drawn into a detective story within a detective story that takes us halfway into the 20th century and across the sea to Tasmania before the clues finally add up to what surely must be the last word on the Road Hill Murder.” ―The Daily Mail
“Summerscale has constructed nothing less than a masterpiece… The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is at one and the same time a crime thriller, a sociological history, a biography and a fascinating essay on the nature of investigation… My shelves are stacked with books about crime, but none more satisfying than this.” ―Craig Brown, The Mail on Sunday
“Summerscale has done excellent research in ferreting out the details of this curious case. [She] has come up with a new solution to the puzzle and in doing so has produced a book that deepens and expands the knowledge of what one would have thought was an already over-examined case: a remarkable achievement.” ―The Sunday Times
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Top Customer Reviews
At times, both story lines get bogged down in too much detail. This is true about the infancy of dective work in Britain, how it developed, how the public became fascinated and then obsessed with detective work, etc. However, the author does a wonder job of vividly describing London in the 1860s. Mr. Whicher comes off as both smart, caring, and sympathetic. When the Kent family storyline gets bogged down in detail, the family comes off as somewhat uninteresting, privileged, and lacking substance. (Not a reflection on the author, this is just my opinion of the family members.) This is true until later in the text when the father, one son, and one daughter are described in greater detail regarding the adult years of their lives. This opens up each character into broader description and into more humanity, especially the son who became a renowned scientist.
The first 3/4 of the book covers a time period of about 1860-1865. About 3/4 of the way through, a main character confesses to the murder and gets incarcerated. Up to this point, the book held together tightly and listening to it was engrossing. The last 1/4, though, seemed disjointed and fragmented, covering a time period from 1865-1974. Characters that were central to the story, both family members and detectives, start to die off in rapid succession. I felt like I was looking at a broken dish on the floor: I could see all the pieces, but they no longer fit together. And while the 20th century plot is interesting, aspects of it felt like an afterthought. I do not regret buying and listening to the audio CDs, but when the last sentence was read, I was left with an unsettling "Hmmm?" in my mind. I wanted a more concrete resolution. Overall "The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher" was worth my time and money.
I don't know what it was about the Suspicions of Mr Whicher, it had all of the elements that I usually get so excited about. Victorian England, detectives, gruesome murder, serious secrets hidden among the household. This was another book though that was pretty much detailed to death. I was skipping whole pages because it was the minute details that every detective must consider but that myself as a reader doesn't want to hear about. Skip to the brilliant ideas from the detective and the emotional outbursts from the suspects. This was another one that I put aside so that I could get through my pile of books.
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