Graham's Reviews > The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher Or The Murder At Road Hill House

The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher Or The Murder At Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale
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's review
Jan 26, 11

bookshelves: 19th-century, historical, mystery, non-fiction
Read from January 20 to 23, 2011, read count: 1

Having owned this book unread for a couple of years, and hearing that a new TV adaptation of the tale is about to be shown, I decided I better get on with reading it.

I got pretty much what I expected. It's a whodunit tale, a true story about a much-sensationalised murder committed in a locked country mansion at night. The murder is gruesome, the suspects numerous, the police typically baffled.

Summerscale is great at sorting out all her different sources to keep the story moving along nicely. She uses a variety of contemporary records to build a compelling tale that casts light on the Victorian family, hypocrisy, repression, class divides and the growing cult of the detective. The photos that are included in the book are very enlightening, too.

However, the story isn't perfect. It quickly becomes obvious that this is heavily padded. The actual facts about the mystery are thin on the ground, so instead of releasing a shorter book, Summerscale gets around this by exploring attitudes to police detectives of the era. We get tons of social commentary from the likes of Charles Dickens, and plenty of extracts from novels detailing fictional detectives, like Wilkie Collins. Summerscale's aim is to show us how this true-life case inspired sensation writers for years to come as well as gripping the national consciousness.

The actual facts are drip fed to us, and sometimes I got irritated because I just wanted to find out 'whodunit'. Still, I found the writing style very readable, and that stops the book from ever getting boring. In fact my eagerness to discover the truth made it difficult to put down. I really liked it, but a second reading - now that I have all the answers - might be more difficult.
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