Rummanah Aasi
  Last year I discovered the sub-genre of historical mysteries, which I enjoyed very much. I came across The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher when a colleague and I were talking about doing a mystery/true crime display for our library. I had mentioned that I enjoy reading about Victorian England and was told that The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher would be right up my alley. I couldn't have agreed more. The book never had a dull moment and I captivated by its topsy-turvey murder mystery along with discovering the seedy aspect of one well known family.

Description (from the Publisher): The dramatic story of the real-life murder that inspired the birth of modern detective fiction. 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'sThe Moonstoneto Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade.

Review: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a true crime story that rocked Victorian England and in a lot of ways began the big trend of the Victorian detective. The Road Hill case which involved the murder a toddler in a respectable home served as fodder for the emerging detective genre taken up with relish by famous authors such as Dickens, Poe and Wilkie Collins and it was the most talked about case of its time. It perplexed detectives at the time and was resolved five years after the deed at the humilating cost of its key detective Mr. Whicher.
  The book reads like a thriller as the author models this engaging true-crime tale on the traditional country-house murder mystery, packed with secretive family members moving about with hidden motives in a commodious old manor house. On the fateful night of June 30, 1860, in the Wiltshire village of Road, three-year-old Saville Kent was removed in the dead of night from his cot in the room he shared with his nursemaid, suffocated, stabbed and dumped in the privy outside the kitchen. In addition to his parents, Samuel and Mary Kent, the inhabitants of Road Hill House included numerous servants and Samuel's four children from his previous marriage, each harboring various grievances since their mother's untimely death.  Unlike police officials today that carefully examines the case without tampering the evidence, the local constable made a mess of the entire investigation. Authorities called in Scotland Yard's "Prince of detectives," the widely popular and most effective detective, Jonathan Whicher, who was at the height of his career. The book follows Whicher's interviews with the servants and family members, allowing readers to fill in the blanks much as the detective had to do. There were so many red flags on certain suspects, but the case twisted and turned as new information about the family and its household were revealed.
  On largely circumstantial evidence, Whicher arrested Samuel's 16-year-old daughter Constance, but she was soon released, and the press ridiculed Whicher for accusing an innocent girl. Whicher's fame became notoriety and eventually lead him to have a nervous breakdown. In 1865, however, Constance confessed to the crime and after a sensational trial served a 20-year prison sentence. It was startling to see how much the "authorities" mucked up the investigation mainly because the police were incompetent and the case was so popular that everyone had their theories of who is responsible for the crime. No one could understand the deeper questions and observations that Whicher was getting at, which dragged the case much longer than necessary. Summerscale pursues the story over decades, enriching the account with explanations of the then-new detective terminology and methods and suggesting a convincing motive for Constance's out-of-the-blue confession. I also liked how she incorporates the influence Jonathan Whicher had on Victorian detective writers. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a great read and fascinating read for those interested in true crime as well as mysteries.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some disturbing images and details surrounding the murder. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larrson, Midnight Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
5 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    So he was right about Constance? Well done him. Did he at least get to know he was right before he had a nervous breakdown? I find myself intrigued by this story Rummanah, even more so knowing it's based on true events.


  2. Candace Says:

    Wow, this sounds fascinating! I'm not good about squeezing in these kinds of books now that I'm flooded with so many to read, but this one sounds like one I might quite enjoy!


  3. What a horrible crime!That is one cold hearted 16 yr old. Did they check to see if she'd committed any other murders!! Okay so this sub genre is true crime historical fiction? Are there many books in the Victorian Era in this sub genre? I'd find that interesting to read about as well. True crime always fascinates me (as long as it isn't about a serial killer still roaming today's streets).

    Heather


  4. Sam Says:

    I agree with Jenny. It gives me chills knowing that this was inspired by true events. I haven't read a good mystery novel in a while, but I'm glad you were impressed with this overall. Great review!


  5. This sounds really good. Have you read anything by Sarah Waters (spelling may be off)? I've heard she writes good historical mysteries.


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