Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
Kate Summerscale
Walker & Company
384 pages
Book provided by Bloomsbury USA through Shelf Awareness

In the early hours of Friday, 29 June 1860 Samuel and Mary Kent were asleep on the first floor of their detached three-storey Georgian house above the village of Road, five miles from Trowbridge.
~ First sentence, Chapter One, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher ~

Summerscale 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.

This is a very ambitious, interesting non-fiction read with a lot going on ~ 1. The murder and investigation into the death of a three-year old child, 2. The rise and fall of Detective Jack Whicher and beginnings of modern detective work, and 3. The rise of modern sensation and detective fiction.

For the most part the author skillfully weaves all three story lines together though at times I felt that main story got lost among the many and varied details that make up this book. The murder, it's investigation and Detective Whicher's rise and fall would have been enough to carry this book. When the author diverges off into writing about rise of sensation and/or detective fiction is where I feel the book takes on too much. While it is interesting it detracts from the main story. The book is rich with detail and you can tell the author spent a lot of time in the archives researching her story. She brings to life this English Victorian household with their secrets and coverups. She also brings to life constituted the justice system in 1860s England and subsequent prison life.

I would recommend this book to fans of historical non-fiction and fiction alike. While it doesn't make my top 10 list for 2008 it does make my recommended reading list for this year.

1 Comment:

kbookreviews said...

I haven't yet read this, but you're review makes me want to even more! Thanks :)

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