The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this book and it increased my sense of the Victorian culture with regards to crime, the rise of a detective force and the role of the novel and novelist.
Ostensibly the book is about the murder of three year old Saville Kent who was found in an outhouse with his throat slit and the detective who first identified the guilty person. A number of readers, who have previously read about this crime were disappointed because there wasn’t a lot of new information in the book. I think this always happens when a new book is written about famous unsolved crimes like those of Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden. We ache to get that one piece of information that will be incontrovertible, and there is such disappointment when it isn’t there.
I found the real value in this book was the description of the detective, Jack Whicher, and the new role of the police detective. I have been reading books about this period lately including books by Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Poe. I also am a fan of Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries. This book described how people felt about the new crime novels and as well as the emergence of a middle class with time to read them. Especially interesting was the role of the detective. People felt that prying into stranger’s business was a vile practice, but they also lived in a complex society where people no longer knew the people surrounding them well. In order for justice to be done, someone needed to find the criminal.
The book does drag in a few places and I thought the character development could have been a bit better, but I also realize that is a problem with books about real people. It is hard to make them seem real when there is little evidence available. I thought the author used the personal writings of some of the characters to let them speak for themselves and not put words into their mouths.
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