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The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

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Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 1798

Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Thu Nov 27, 2008 5:08 am    Post subject: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher  Reply with quote

This book is on my TBR list.

From: LatinaMagistra (Original Message) Sent: 5/10/2008 3:27 PM
Kate Summerscale's new book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: Murder and the Undoing of A Great Victorian Detective, is a nonfiction account of Whicher's detailed investigation into the murder of a three-year-old boy at his family's country estate (which I am sure you all have heard of before). Whicher's suspicions about the murdered boy's teenaged half-sister, and the eventual confession and trial of the killer are all covered in this analysis. The cover of the book is delightful and I wish it were a novel, rather than a work of non-fiction.

I just heard a review of the book on NPR, which you can listen to or read at:

This is an excerpt from the book:

"A detective was a recent invention. The first fictional sleuth, Auguste Dupin, appeared in Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Murders in the rue Morgue' in 1841, and the first real detectives in the English-speaking world were appointed by the London Metropolitan Police the next year. The officer who investigated the murder at Road Hill House - Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher of Scotland Yard - was one of the eight men who formed this fledgling force."

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Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 447

Location: Glasgow, Scotland

PostPosted: Thu Nov 27, 2008 9:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I read that in June this year and it's well worth the read.  Absolutely fascinating.  

I'd recommend it to anyone.


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Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 1798

Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2008 4:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

From: lunababymoonchild  (Original Message)    Sent: 09/06/2008 19:38
My thoughts on the book "The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House", by Kate Summerscale.
Possible Plot Spoilers (I dislike that term but cannot think of another suitable one).

This book is, as the title suggests, about the murder at Road Hill House which is an actual event and took place 29/30 June 1860.  Saville Kent, aged three, was murdered (rather horribly, not that murder isn't horrible) in the middle of the night.

This is the type of book that I usually enjoy and I did enjoy it.  It took rather longer than I expected to read (7 days in all) considering that it's only 304 pages long (including the afterword but not the notes etc).  The reason for this is, I believe, the extraordinary - to me - detail that this book goes into.  At the start of the book there is a family tree and a list of characters.  There is an explanation of the imperial monetary system ( s d).   Throughout the book there are floor plans of the house and some photographs, which I didn't expect.  Each chapter is prefaced by a drawing.  

I'm not sure that all the details were altogether necessary (although I do love details).  For instance do we really need to know how much the detective investigating the case paid the porter to carry his luggage?  This was a detail that was known, however, the book did speculate what said detective ate that night and that remains unknown.

That said, the case itself was absolutely fascinating, and it took place at a time when police detecting was in its infancy.  Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher, who investigated the case, was, at the time, one of only eight such detectives and clearly only had his wits to rely on to solve the case.  As it turned out he did solve it, but did not secure a conviction.  He was much vilified for making the accusation - primarily because Vicotrian Era England found the accusation itself so shocking -  but was vindicated in the end,  only years after the case ended and the murderer confessed (which he said would be the only conclusion to the case).  It's a complicated story with no definitive ending insofaras there remain questions which are largely unaswered, although a confession was offered and a conviction secured. The evidence does largely fit the confession - as Whicher pointed out in his investigation.  Oddly, given the amount of detail the book goes into it's the details of the confession that remain in question but not the guilt.  That said, nobody appears to have asked!   The book does tell you what happened to all of the individual family members concerned, as far as is known, until their deaths.

The prose is littered with constant references to fictional works by Dickens, Wilkie Collins and others.  This I found distracting somewhat although it was interesting insofaras these stories may not have come into being if not for the Road Hill House case, and it seemed that everybody alive at the time had a theory on who did it and why (nothing changed there, then).  I was also surprised to find that the News of The World existed back then and it's method of reporting doesn't seem to have changed!

I would recommend this book but with reservations to personal taste and squeamishness.  When I say detail, I mean detail, so if true crime or the murder of a three year old is not to your taste I'd stay away from this. There is a full description of the injuries that killed.    Although the facts throughout the book are presented in a non-sensational way it is a real event that happened to real people, and the time period covered goes right up to 1944 - which is quite recent, to me.

I loved it though, and would read it again, so thanks to Latina who brought it to my attention.

Joined: 21 Nov 2008                      Posted: Thu Dec 04, 2008 10:16 am    
I've just finished this book and really enjoyed it - although I did skip over some of the pages listing the little boy's injuries.  What happened to the characters after the murder was also fascinating.

As to the frequent literary references, I am in two minds about them.  Some did seem relevant;  I had forgotten that a missing nightdress features in the plot of The Moonstone as it did in this case.  But the comparison between Constance and William Kent and the brother and sister in The Turn of the Screw struck me as contrived.

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Thursday Next

Joined: 26 Nov 2008
Posts: 250

Location: UK

PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2008 3:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My husband has read this and keeps on at me to read it so we can discuss it! Looks like I'd better get on with it... Smile

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Simon The Sponge

Joined: 13 Dec 2008
Posts: 160

Location: Gillingham, Kent

PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 10:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gawd, it's been a long time since I've been on here - anyway I've just finished this and had mixed feelings about it.  Kate Summerscale related the tale with the kind of surety as if it were her own construction.  The pacing and structure were handled exceptionally well and the majority of the diversions into the characters back stories were well placed, avoiding any potential stop-start feeling that could so easily have resulted.

Like Sandra, I found the attempts to link the traits of whicher with some of his fictional counterparts a little contrived...especially the influence on the construction of inspector bucket in Bleak house.  Maybe Road Hill House murders had a far greater influence on Detective fiction than I am giving credit, but it just felt as if Kate Summerscale had taken the 3 or 4 most famous fictional detectives of the period and created some rather tenous links between them.  But as I say maybe I'm being unfair.  Summerscale manages for the most part to bring the characters to life....aprt from the eponymous Whicher himself about whom we discover a large degree of professional history, but his personality somehow seems to be a little elusive, maybe that is becuase of the nature of the limited information recorded about him - mostly in the form of official documents, reports and letters.  

...But still a jolly old 19th C romp and worth a delve.

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