A very interesting book that explores some of the origins of mystery writing and detective fiction that arose after a real-life country-house murder mystery.
The organization felt a bit loosey-goosey at times, though I wouldn't have wanted the job of rearranging the data. A personal complaint: I hate when books contain pictures near the middle that serve as spoilers for the end. Despite the non-fiction nature of this book, it reads rather like a mystery that should obey the standards of the genre.
This is another rarity in my reading list, a non-fiction book, though it's about a real Victorian murder mystery so that probably counts as a genre book too.
The eponymous Mr Whicher is a detective at the newly-formed Scotland Yard, summoned to Wiltshire to help investigate the kidnapping and murder of a child, the youngest son of the owner of Road Hill House. From the outset, it's clear that it's an 'inside job', as although attempts are made to make it look like someone has broken in and stolen the boy, it soon becomes apparent that only the inhabitants of the house could have done it.
Unfortunately for the detective in question, although he comes to a conclusion (which turns out, in the much longer term to be the correct one, or so it seems...), the outcome of his investigations is not what polite society wants to believe. As a result, he's personally ridiculed in the press and his reputation destroyed.
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher won a number of awards and has sold by the bucketload, but for me it was ultimately a little unsatisfying - that may be partly because of the amount of padding the author needs to get the context across, much of which was superfluous for me given that I have a grasp of the period already. It also looks like it's a much more substantial tale than it actually is, given the degree of exposition involved and the lengthy reference section at the back of the book.
Absolutely superb. The facts of the case unfold as in a Victorian detective novel -- which could have been a clumsy gimmick, but is instead pulled off brilliantly and seamlessly. Not going to tell you the answer to the whodunit. The ever-thickening plot and the unfolding of the reveal are to be savoured. Summerscale is a superlative writer and researcher, and each of her books should be on everyone's to-read list.
This is a very well researched and in-depth look into a murder that took place in a middle-class home in Victorian England. Summerscale goes to great length to describe the situation that faced Detective Whicher as he attempted to unravel the mystery of the Road Hill murder.
I felt that the book exceeded it's expectations in sheer amount of information presented as well as providing examples of Whicher's detective skill and examples from various writers of the time intrigued by the 'magic' of a detective's insight. The book really shows the roots by which detective fiction was founded (in an interesting twist that I had not expected).
The reading was a bit dense occasionally and got a bit dry in spots, but overall it was a very engaging and compelling book. I would not recommend it for anyone with only a passing interest in the subject matter.
I found some parts of the book have led me to want to explore different aspects of Victorian culture, especially to find out more about the ease with which men were able to divorce or imprison a woman due to 'insanity,' which was a supposedly common ailment of the 'softer' sex.
I found that the whole situation of the book did not come from a woman's insanity or a woman's weakness, but actually from the base nature of one man.
(Still in progress but I want to write this down) In addition to the infodump of nonfiction research problem, there are a lot of connections and parallels being made to the contemporaneous fiction inspired by the case, but without analysis - just presents the parallel, not the WHY. This isn’t that kind of book, and that’s fine, but then not every single line in a real police report, etc., needs to be followed with a quote from a work of fiction that was similar to it.
I've been meaning to read The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, and doing a course on crime fiction finally pushed me in that direction. I'd been told it has both the history of 'real life' detection and something of the development of crime fiction -- which is true, it does, though it's somewhat difficult to follow, sometimes, under layers and layers of detail. Kate Summerscale's work is certainly thorough, and from all I can tell, well researched. However, the murder that she's supposed to be writing about is possibly given less space than all the people involved, mostly Mr Whicher (unsurprisingly) and the lives of everyone involved after the case. In some cases it's relevant to the solution and to the history, but sometimes it seems rather tangential. In any case, the sheer amount of detail and the dryness with which it's written put me off somewhat.