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The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective Paperback – Illustrated, February 24, 2009
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In June of 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent was found at the bottom of an outdoor privy with his throat slit. The crime horrified all England and led to a national obsession with detection, ironically destroying, in the process, the career of perhaps the greatest detective in the land.
At the time, the detective was a relatively new invention; there were only eight detectives in all of England and rarely were they called out of London, but this crime was so shocking, as Kate Summerscale relates in her scintillating new book, that Scotland Yard sent its best man to investigate, Inspector Jonathan Whicher.
Whicher quickly believed the unbelievable-that someone within the family was responsible for the murder of young Saville Kent. Without sufficient evidence or a confession, though, his case was circumstantial and he returned to London a broken man. Though he would be vindicated five years later, the real legacy of Jonathan Whicher lives on in fiction: the tough, quirky, knowing, and all-seeing detective that we know and love today...from the cryptic Sgt. Cuff in Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone to Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade.
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a provocative work of nonfiction that reads like a Victorian thriller, and in it kate Summerscale has fashioned a brilliant, multilayered narrative that is as cleverly constructed as it is beautifully written.
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“[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.” ―Mysterylovers.com
“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
About the Author
- Publisher : Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (February 24, 2009)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 080271742X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0802717429
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.62 x 1.14 x 8.28 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #252,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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At the heart of this is the murder of a toddler, so you would think there would be some empathy, compassion maybe but there's not, it's just ice cold and full of bland facts and quotes.
The equivalent of looking at great art, and admiring the frame it sits in. Hugely researched, but so what....
Like Mr Briggs' Hat, this is a fascinating, thorough & well-researched report into a specific crime & the ripples flowing from that crime. Underneath that run numerous fascinating undercurrents: we gain insight into the beginnings of CID & detective investigation generally. The book also throws greater light on the class-system and the secrets between 'upstairs & downstairs' staff. We also see the suspicions between the classes & between family members, fuelled by the Victorian tendency to keep quiet & not bring shame to the family.
A brilliant book which deserves far better reviews than it has here, in my opinion.
Where this book is strongest is describing the details of the murder itself, the people involved and the investigation carried out by the detective Jack Whicher. It is an interesting case in itself, being a classic locked door mystery where you know that at least one member of the household committed the crime.
The background detail on the foundation of the Metropolitan Police detective service is fascinating. I especially liked the conflict of Victorian morality that objected to police officers being dressed in plain clothes and poking their noses into the affairs of respectable folk.
However, the actual substance of the murder and investigation only accounts for perhaps half of this book. The other half seemed to me to be no better than padding. False leads, eccentric amateur detectives and unnecessary background about those involved makes the narrative drag in places. The last few chapters of the book are especially tiresome as it describes the lives of the surviving family members far beyond any relevance to the murder case.
Although Kate Summerscale has obviously painstakingly reseached Victorian detective literature and does a good job of referring to this throughout, I would have preferred to have seen more detail about how the case had such an impact on the birth of sensationalist journalism. No reference is made to the later Ripper murders which had a similar handling by a press hungry to sell newspapers by dramatising and revelling in the details of particularly gruesome crimes.
"The Suspicions of Mr Whicher" is well worth reading, but it does have its flaws. It's front cover proclaims it "the Richard and Judy number one bestseller" as though that was the equivalent of the Pulitzer. If you want to know more about early Victorian policing and the birth of detective literature though you should find this an interesting and intriguing book which is also easy and enjoyable to read.