The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Penny Dreadful Review
When I read true crime, it is Victorian true crime. I picked up a paperback by Kate Summerscale that I at first thought to be a mystery novel. Despite sharing many similarities with a novel mystery, it was in fact an account of a true case that shocked the Victorian world: the murder at Road Hill House.
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher sheds light on a case that horrified Victorian England in the summer of 1860. The mutilation of a young boy stumped the local police, and the detective brought in from London couldn’t discover enough evidence to secure a conviction. The case frightened the public so because the killer wasn’t some criminal stranger. The miscreant was part of the family. Nothing was more precious, nay, holy, to the Victorian mind.
Kate Summerscale explores how the case was reflected in the literature of the time. She touched on the way that the new and sensational journalism of the time spread knowledge of the murder all over England. Everyone had an opinion about the identity or identities of the killer. Charles Dickens believed the murderers to be the nursemaid and the father.
I learned so much from this well-written, well-researched book. It has all the thrill of a mystery novel and all the value of a historical text. Summerscale gets a bit sidetracked at times, exploring people’s fascinating lives, but always comes back to the heart of the matter: who really killed Francis Saville Kent? The Road Hill House murder was never satisfactorily solved, despite the confession of a murderer several years later. It was the opinion of Detective-Inspector Whicher that there was an accomplice. The mystery will never be fully solved…
I highly recommend this book. It’s a great look at Victorian reporting and literature. It’s a fascinating tale about the early days of detection. Besides, it’s a good mystery. I award The Suspicions Of Mr. Whicher four gears out of five. I stayed up all night reading it.
Your Correspondent From The Bookstore,
Penny J. Merriweather