- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Format: Paperback | 384 pages
- Dimensions: 153mm x 234mm
- Publication date: 23 July 2008
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 074759922X
- ISBN 13: 9780747599227
- Illustrations note: B&W Inserts
- Sales rank: 127,429
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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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.
By Mark Thwaite 10 Dec 2008
*** Winner of the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for 2008 ***
Author Kate Summerscale received a cheque for 30,000 pounds for winning the 10th Samuel Johnson Prize -- and she thoroughly deserved it! The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is a wonderfully well-researched, exquisitely paced and captivating analysis of the chilling murder of three-year-old Saville Kent at Road Hill House, Wiltshire, way back in 1860. More than that, however, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is simultaneously a history of detective fiction and how it reflected and refracted the hypocrisy and hysteria of Victorian society itself. Summerscale is particular good on how her hero, Scotland Yard detective Jack Whicher, influenced the father of the detective novel Wilkie Collins (and his good friend Charles Dickens too) and on why so many of us feel the need to read about such awful crimes in the first place.
Judiciously finding a compelling narrative path through all the original police papers, newspaper articles, reports, official records, letters, interview notes etc., Summerscale has written an illuminating study of both murder and our cultural responses to -- and fascination with -- such barbaric acts. Essential stuff.
'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