The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House

Hardback

By (author) Kate Summerscale

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  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • Format: Hardback | 384 pages
  • Dimensions: 135mm x 210mm x 35mm | 536g
  • Publication date: 7 April 2008
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0747582157
  • ISBN 13: 9780747582151
  • Sales rank: 131,695

Product description

It is a summer's night in 1860. In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet. Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep. At some point after midnight a dog barks. The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery: an unimaginably gruesome murder has taken place in their home. The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is surely still among them. Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, the most celebrated detective of his day, reaches Road Hill House a fortnight later. He faces an unenviable task: to solve a case in which the grieving family are the suspects. The murder provokes national hysteria. The thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes - scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing - arouses fear and a kind of excitement. But when Whicher reaches his shocking conclusion there is uproar and bewilderment. A true story that inspired a generation of writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this has all the hallmarks of the classic murder mystery - a body; a detective; a country house steeped in secrets. In The Suspicions of Mr Whicher Kate Summerscale untangles the facts behind this notorious case, bringing it back to vivid, extraordinary life.

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Author information

Kate Summerscale was born in 1965. She is the author of the bestselling The Queen of Whale Cay, which won a Somerset Maugham award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread biography award. She has also judged various literary competitions including the Booker Prize. She lives in London with her five-year-old son.

Review quote

'It is a beautiful piece, written with great lucidity and respect for the reader, and with immaculate restraint. A classic, to my mind, of the finest documentary writing.' John Le Carre 'A pacy analysis of a true British murder case from 1860, the unravelling of which involved one of the earliest Scotland Yard detectives and inspired sensation novelists such as Dickens and Wilkie Collins Absolutely riveting' Sarah Waters, Guardian 'Summerscale has constructed nothing less than a masterpiece My shelves are stacked with books about crime, but none more satisfying than this' Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday 'Sparse, melancholy, beautifully written the year's most beguiling biography' Independent

Editorial reviews

Painstaking but never boring recreation of a sensational 1860 murder brings to shivering life the age of the Victorian detective.The Road Hill case served as fodder for the emerging detective genre taken up with relish by such authors as Dickens, Poe and Wilkie Collins. It perplexed detectives at the time and was resolved five years after the deed - and then only partially and unsatisfactorily, avers British journalist and biographer Summerscale (The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of 'Joe' Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water, 1997, etc.). She models this engaging true-crime tale on the traditional country-house murder mystery, packed with secretive family members moving about with hidden motives in a commodious old manor house. On June 30, 1860, in the Wiltshire village of Road, three-year-old Saville Kent was removed in the dead of night from his cot in the room he shared with his nursemaid, suffocated, stabbed and dumped in the privy outside the kitchen. In addition to his parents, Samuel and Mary Kent, the inhabitants of Road Hill House included numerous servants and Samuel's four children from his previous marriage, each harboring various grievances since their mother's untimely death. After the local constable made a mess of the investigation, authorities called in Scotland Yard's "prince of detectives," Jonathan Whicher, then at the height of his career at age 45. The author dispassionately presents highlights from the record of Whicher's interviews with servants and family members, allowing readers to fill in the blanks much as the detective had to do. On largely circumstantial evidence, he arrested Samuel's 16-year-old daughter Constance, but she was soon released, and the press ridiculed Whicher for accusing an innocent girl. In 1865, however, she confessed to the crime and after a sensational trial served a 20-year prison sentence. Summerscale pursues the story over decades, enriching the account with explanations of the then-new detective terminology and methods and suggesting a convincing motive for Constance's out-of-the-blue confession.A bang-up sleuthing adventure. (Kirkus Reviews)