Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

The Murder at Road Hill House

It is a summer's night night in 1860. In an elegant Georgian house in the quaint English village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet. Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep.

They wake the next morning to a horrific discovery: a gruesome murder has taken place in their home. The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is almost certainly still among them. Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, the most celebrated detective of his day, is sent in to investigate the murder at Road Hill House. With only an inept local police force to help him, and no material evidence, he faces an unenviable task: to solve a case in which the grieving family are suspects.

Do you recognise the scenario? The isolated country house, the group of people within its walls that include the victim and the suspects, the detective from brought in from outside? This mid 19th century real life crime received enormous publicity and provoked hysteria throughout England. A true story that would inspire generations of writers from Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie and so many more , all of whom would use this classic murder mystery setting.

The investigation of the crime not only makes interesting reading but reveals much about the Victorian era and its social attitudes. Detective-Inspector Whicher was a new breed of man, one of eight men chosen to form this new branch of Scotland Yard, and neither his methods nor the conclusions he came to were well received by the public. The criticism directed at him seems less to do with him making mistakes and more with the fact that he was born into a lower social class and had the temerity to enter the homes of his betters and violate their privacy.

I don't know how long Mr Whicher has sat unobtrusively on my library's shelves but it took a review from Becky @ Pageturners to bring it to my attention. It's non-fiction but very easy reading and should appeal to anyone who likes true crime, the beginnings of detective fiction, or is interested in the Victorian era.
I enjoyed it immensely!


  1. I read this one a few years ago and thought it was very good - especially for this reluctant nonfiction reader!

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. I really enjoyed this book. Glad you did, too!

  3. Glad you enjoyed it! I have a better review coming out soon, but I definitely enjoyed it like you did. I did sometimes find that it moved a bit slow, especially from about half way, but it is definitely a great book for people who normally wouldn't read much non-fiction.

    I like how it reflected on how the advent of real life detectives bought about detective fiction.

  4. Marg - I'm not a great non-fiction reader either but I do like anything historical.

    Kailana - i liked it a lot.

    Becky - I didn't find it slow probably because I got more immersed in the history than the crime investigation.

  5. I read this one some time ago.. I enjoyed it but wasn't over the top with me for some reason that I cannot think of lol

  6. Ooh, this book is doing much the same on my shelf that it was doing on yours- sitting and waiting patiently for me to realize that I MUST read it. I look forward to cracking open that cover :-)

  7. A true story that sounds like it could have come from the pen of Agatha Christie! It sounds really interesting, all the more so in that it isn't just from someone's imagination.

    Hadn't heard of this one, glad you enjoyed it and glad you brought it to our attention through the challenge. :)

  8. I really enjoyed this book too! perfect for fans of Wilkie Collins too.

  9. I read this a few years ago and really enjoyed it as well! It read like a fiction book, perfectly plotted and with plenty of questions raised.

    Thanks for the review. Happy reading!