Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

This book tells the true story of the murder of three-year-old Saville Kent and the efforts of Detective Jonathan Whicher to determine who killed the young boy.  I had been looking forward to reading this book for some time but found myself disappointed quite early into it.  First of all, I didn't realize that the victim was practically a baby and that broke my heart.  The author is quite matter-of-fact about Saville maybe to keep the reader from becoming attached to him; but it was a hideous crime that was upsetting.  Second of all, Summerscale is very diligent in her efforts to portray the new detective force of Scotland Yard as the novelty that it was in 1860.  She includes excerpts from novels written during that age including Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.  There are all kinds of facts about the culture and mindset of English people of the time; lots of information about what things costs and what people earned.  I guess it could be interesting, but I was looking forward to a true-life mystery and felt all the facts detracted from the actual story of who killed Saville.  At least for me.  I read about half of the book but found myself falling asleep too many times.  I don't know if the murderer was ever discovered and I don't care.  If you want to read a book about how the great detective evolved and about mid 19th century England, I would recommend this book.  I think Summerscale did some great research and presented the information in an interesting format.  It just wasn't my cup of tea.
Rating:  DNF


  1. I have a copy of this book but haven't gotten to it yet. I really appreciate your thoughts on it as I was under the same impression you were about the book. Now I can go into it with different expectations. Hopefully when I do get to it, I won't fall asleep as I read too. :-) It's been known to happen.

  2. I read this and was in two minds about it. I was fascinated by the development of the detective as outsider hero idea that later became so pervasive in English writing.... on the other hand, the murder story was not as interesting as I had expected and i felt that the suthor did not explore it as fully as she could have done. there was a bit of a difference between what I thought the book was and what it actually turned out to be and I think that was at the route of my semi disappointment...

    Thanks for sharing your interesting anc candid review


  3. I recently read an author say that she had compiled years of facts for her book that she had to leave out because it bogged the story down. Of course, that was for a novel.

  4. I have heard good things about this book, but haven't read it yet. I almost bought it, so I am glad I didn't. I would rather just read it from the library!