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The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  10,866 ratings  ·  1,333 reviews

The dramatic story of the real-life murder that inspired the birth of modern detective fiction.

In June of 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent was found at the bottom of an outdoor privy with his throat slit. The crime horrified all England and led to a national obsession with detection, ironically destroying, in the process, the career of perhaps the greatest detective in th

Hardcover, 360 pages
Published April 15th 2008 by Walker & Company (first published 2008)
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20th out of 453 books — 717 voters
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Community Reviews

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So disappointing! I was hoping for another "Devil in the White City" but, what I got was "Devil in the over researched, meandering, dull city." Poor Mr. Whicher. From the beginning we are promised a story about this interesting man and the case that brought him down. This was a man who influenced all the famous literary detectives from Sherlock Holmes to Philip Marlowe. But, we never got to know him. He never had a voice. And frankly, the guy on the page would have a hard time influencing anythi ...more
It's a bit hard to understand all the acclaim "The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher" has received. A recounting of the murder of a three-year-old English boy in 1860 as well as an exploration of the killing's impact on detective work both real and fictional, the book certainly isn't terrible but does suffer from being something of a data dump for the author.

It seems Kate Summerscale felt a need to give us every niggling detail she was able to dig up about the murder, its coverage by the press at the ti
If you like 19th century British novels...
If you like detective novels...
If you are interested in the development of the novel...
If you have any interest in the development of the science of forensics...
If you like true crime...
If you enjoy good factual writing...
If you like a good story...

... then this book has it all. It's like the author asked me to write a list of all the things I like to read most, shook them up in a shaker and came out with the perfect book.

I drove my husband nuts while I
Lance Greenfield
Superb historical documentary of police detectives

This is an amazing book. Rarely have I read a book which has been so meticulously researched. There is an unbelievable amount of detail about the origins of official police detective work, the personalities involved, the journalism of the mid-nineteenth century, the Kent family of Road, the famous and not-so-famous people of that time, and the continuing history of the characters involved into the twentieth century.

So, if I think that this book's
To me this book reads like somebody’s master’s thesis that was expanded for publication – the style is very dry, there’s a compulsive need to share every single random detail of research, and a particular obsession with how much everyone paid for everything – but it’s an interestingly idiosyncratic prism through which to look at the various hang-ups of Victorian society, in particular the glorification of Home and Family, and their terror of the increasing social mobility among the classes. It f ...more
There don't seem to be many glowing reviews of this book on Goodreads, which I can totally understand. Yes, Summerscale gives us way, way too much extra background information on everything, her attempt to connect Detective Whicher to every single literary detective that has ever been is weak at the best of times, and the book's content doesn't pack quite the sensational punch its title promises.

Those are the book's flaws. I acknowledge their existence, and will now proceed to completely disreg
This book really went beyond what I was expecting from it. Aside from re-telling the mystery of a 3 year old's murder, the author also delved into the life and thoughts of one of the first and greatest dectectives, Mr. Whicher. Since I had never heard of this detective or this murder before, it was shocking to realize how many famous books were so greatly influenced by the story. For instance, Dickens was highly interested in this case, and Lady Audley's Secret was quite heavily based upon the m ...more
Aug 17, 2008 Sharon rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who loves detective novels and true crime
Recommended to Sharon by: The free flyer at Books-A-Million
Shelves: history
The crime shocked all of England. Three year old Saville Kent, son of the second family of a well to do British Government Official was found murdered, his small body stuffed in an outdoor privy. This was the infamous Road Hill murder and the man who lead the investigation was Mr. Jonathan Whicher. The story filled the tabloids of the time and was discussed everywhere from pulpits to the halls of Power. The unhappy events inspired not only modern forensic investigative methods but also open up a ...more
So it wasn't totally bad, but it never lived up to its hype either. The whoddunit part of the story was quite suspenceful, and even before that, the setup where you're introduced to this odd Victorian family, and you know something bad is about to happen (I was picturing a Rosemary's baby scenario leading up to a macare... ) - that part was good.

So here's the deal: the research was thorough, the writing - scientific, unimaginative and drowned in endless details. Not to mention the characters, w
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale is an account of a real Victorian murder mystery investigated by Jack Whicher, one of the first nine Scotland Yard detectives. In an upper middle class country home, a terrible murder occurred. Three-year-old Saville Kent was discovered dead in a privvy, his throat slashed. A drawing room window had been found open, but it quickly became apparent that no maurading stranger had broken in and committed the dire deed---only one of the family could ...more
I'm so disappointed in this book. I happened upon it at the library and thought it looked fantastic. Who doesn't love a Victorian murder mystery?

YET, it was much less riveting than my beloved Death at the Priory. It was impossible not to compare the two Victorian murders and Death at the Priory wins hands down. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher was dry as dust and spent far too much time comparing the historical person, Mr. Whicher, with the development of the burgeoning genre of detective novels l
I've always been a big fan of "whodunits" and of course you know of my love of historical novels, so I was pretty excited when I saw this book come out and immediately had to snatch it up. Summerscale writes a great novel of a murder mystery set it gothic Victorian London, where the family are the only suspects. The case proves to be very captivating with various theories laid out for the reader to examine. The author is very good at making it not feel like you're reading a non-fiction book that ...more
Jul 26, 2009 Boof rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History fans, fans of Victorian literature, mysteries etc
What a fascinating book this was. I expected to read about the true story of one of the most shocking crimes in 19th century England but I hadn't bargained for also getting a fantastically written and hugely interesting social commentary of Victorian times and attitudes and behaviours with regards to the emergence of Police Detectives in this country.

Mr Whicher, the Detective called in to this particular case, was one of the first ever Scotland Yard Detectives which came with its own share of su
La Petite Américaine
Like most people, I bought this book because I was intrigued by the true story of murder in a good Victorian family, and the detective mystery that followed.

I didn't pay for 200 pages of what read like some friggin mediocre senior honors thesis. I don't care about how the murder turned up in Wiklie Collins, I don't care what Dickens thought about the crime, I don't care which novels it inspired. This book was just saturated with end-notes, footnotes, and quotes ... not that they were distractin
Se siete interessati alla società vittoriana, alla figura del detective, alla nascita del genere poliziesco e alla sua evoluzione negli anni, vi consiglio di leggere questo saggio romanzato che vi fornirà tantissime informazioni. Se invece state cercando un giallo state lontani da questo libro, potreste annoiarvi parecchio.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Much of this was better than my 3-star rating. It is said to be non-fiction that reads like fiction, but there was enough that read like non-fiction and I had to work harder at those parts. I think Erik Larson does a much better job in that regard.

At the core of this is the brutal murder of a young child. In that respect it is not for the faint of heart. In 1860 England professional detectives were a relatively new occupation. Mr. Whicher was called to the scene a full 2 weeks after the crime. A
Aug 13, 2008 Deena rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Barb and Christy and Gil
Shelves: nonfiction
I have mixed thoughts about this book and wish I could give 3.5 stars. First of all, it was a thoughtful birthday gift from my husband who knows I love all things criminal and British. I was intrigued by the crime--that lurking demon under Victorian trappings that includes infanticide and child murder more often than even a historian can believe. And the story of the investigation is quite intriguing. Yet, I am not sure if the author nails the tone and sequence she sought. The book rambles in so ...more
Very interesting book. Does a nice job of showing how authors of late 19th century England got fascinated by detectives and how this case influenced their detective fiction which in turn influenced the modern detective fiction. Lots of interesting period details and it shows how little people have changed. If you substituted blogs and Fox News for the tabloid papers and letters people wrote to the police, the hysteria and ignorance surrounding a crime in 1860 can still be seen in modern day medi ...more
John Potter
Suspicions of Whicher is a non-fiction account of a murder that took place in 1860. The book is a historical look at not only the murder, the people suspected and those trying to solve it, but also of the murder's place in history. It was an event that transfixed a Victorian nation, made and ruined careers and initiated a passion amongst the general public for crime mysteries that exists today.

At its core the book looks at the murder of three year old Saville Kent in 1860, who is taken from his
Anita Dalton
I had such high hopes for this book because all the reviews said that Summerscale had new information and discovered the true killer in the Victorian Age murder of Saville Kent. Well, that's not true. Not at all.

I suspect part of the problem is that as a former true crime aficionado I knew everything Summerscale wrote about in this book. Some of the detail from the maids was new, but for the most part there was nothing new in this book for me, down to the lay out of the house to the man who foun
"Nothing in this world is hidden forever"-Wilkie Collins (1862)
That is my favorite quote from this non-fiction recount of a 19th century murder that spawned the age of the detective novel and became the catalyst for sensationalism of murder and tragic events in history. A very interesting and educational book that reads as a work of fiction, the likes of which Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle could have written. This is the story of the mysterious case of a three-year-old child who was found dead at the b
Ana T.
I was very curious about this book. I enjoy historical mysteries very much and that this one about a true crime seemed perfect to my tastes. Unfortunately that was not so... I found it very interesting in terms of analysis of the Victorian mind, in terms of early detective work but I ended up finding it a bit dry and too cluttered with information that while important to the real investigation dragged the story.

The crime in question is the murder of three year old Saville Kent. In 1860, in the
True crime about a famous British case, the murder of 3 year old Saville Kent. Local police arrested the nanny, saying her motivation was that the Saville saw her and his father in a compromising position, but she was released. Whicher was the Scotland Yard detective called in on the case, and he arrested Constance Kent, the victim's teenaged half sister. Because it was 1860, people were horrified that he could suspect a young girl. She was released and Whicher's reputation suffered. The nanny w ...more
I can't recommend this particularly whole-heartedly. Really, it feels like too many books jammed into one, yet still seems padded out with way too much extraneous detail - I don't really need a list of 9 possible bird species that just might potentially have been outside the carriage of an superintendent dude as he went on a journey. Mr Whicher himself is really not that awesome a guy to write a book about, and attempts to make him the inspiration of every subsequent detective novel seem forced. ...more
Nandakishore Varma
I would have given this four stars, but I had an issue with the way the book was structured. The author seemed to be not clear about what she was writing-a historical mystery, social commentary about Nineteenth Century England, or an exploration of the evolution of the fictional detective. The narration constantly switched between these modes and grated on the nerves at times.

That said, the mystery is excellent (with genuine clues, red herrings and all): and Inspector Whicher is as enthralling
Michael Haydel
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher was a very detailed and fascinating look into a particularly gruesome murder (at least, for its time) in Victorian London.

Summerscale does a really good job of pacing the book just like your typical mystery book might be paced. And the fact that nothing contained within is fiction, is all the more impressive.

She also interweaves discussions on how this particular murder and its main detective, Mr. Whicher, went on to inspire nearly all future detective fiction, as
Perhaps a little embarrassing to be caught reading a book that is proudly displayed at number 3 in the chart at WH Smith's on Paddington Station, but this was an enjoyable "factional" account of a grisly Wiltshire murder of the nineteenth century. Infact, "faction" is probably the wrong word, as the events are completely true - Summerscale cleverly presents them in a way as if they were a novel - punctuated with fascinating titbits of information regarding the Victorian public's attitude towards ...more
I read earlier amongst the reviews, of someone's belief that this novel is an extended version of kate Summerscale's history thesis. And now, after reading the novel for myself, I too believe it so!

The book at least i should say, is very well written and though it does get boring and rather factual, you feel in some-sort of way compelled to keep on reading. other than that, the book lacks substance. the story, the actual plot in my opinion has been longed out and stretched, when it needed not so
A very well researched book about the murder at Road Hill House in 1860 but somehow the research into the cause celebre does not transfer itself very satisfactorily to the telling of the tale. Frequent references to Victorian literature and other cases (such as the Tichborne Claimant) tend to distract from the flow of the story which comes to a satisfactory conclusion when the perpetrator of the crime confesses.
Janne Varvára
I have been wanting to read this book since it was published, and since I'm in a Victorian crime sort of mood these days, I finally ordered it.

This is a non-fiction account of a most chilling crime. In a middle-class Victorian household, a little boy is taken from his crib, first suffocated, then his throat cut, and then dumpted in a privy. A window is left open and suggest an outside foe, but suspicion soon transfers to almost all the home's inhabitants in turn, gradually uncovering dark secret
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Kate Summerscale (born in 1965) is an English writer and journalist.
She won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction in 2008 with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House and won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1998 (and was shortlisted for the 1997 Whitbread Awards for biography) for the bestselling The Queen of Whale Cay, about Joe Carstairs, 'fastest woman on water'.
As a journa
More about Kate Summerscale...
Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of 'Joe' Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: The Oriental Pearl (Illustrated) The Complete Uncle

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“Perhaps this is the purpose of detective investigations, real and fictional -- to transform sensation, horror and grief into a puzzle, and then to solve the puzzle, to make it go away. 'The detective story,' observed Raymond Chandler in 1949, 'is a tragedy with a happy ending.' A storybook detective starts by confronting us with a murder and ends by absolving us of it. He clears us of guilt. He relieves us of uncertainty. He removes us from the presence of death.” 5 likes
“Nothing can be more slightly defined than the line of demarcation between sanity and insanity ... Make the definition too narrow, it becomes meaningless; make it too wide, and the whole human race becomes involved in the dragnet. In strictness we are all mad when we give way to passion, to prejudice, to vice, to vanity; but if all the passionate, prejudiced and vain people were to be locked up as lunatics, who is to keep the key to the asylum?"

(Editorial, The Times, 22 July 1853)”
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