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

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  17,366 ratings  ·  1,936 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

Hardcover, 360 pages
Published April 15th 2008 by Walker & Company (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.45  · 
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 ·  17,366 ratings  ·  1,936 reviews

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Oct 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a version of the true murder investigation, which occurred in Road Hill House on 30th June 1860 in Rode in Wiltshire. The death of 3-year-old Francis Savill Kent became a national outrage and a widespread public condemnation towards the middle-class lifestyles and values. What went on behind closed doors? What can money and social class cover-up?

What was fact, was that behind locked doors the murder occurred and the murderer was one of the household staff or family. Mr Jonathan
Jun 17, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-edition, 2009
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
Fiona Brichaut
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
May 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Katie Lumsden
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars
I absolutely loved this - a fascinating, gripping read, so full of detail and intrigue, and so well written. A real new favourite non-fiction - I would highly recommend.
Aug 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
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
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Four-year-old Saville Kent is murdered in his own home. Although originally placed in the hands of local police, the matter is turned over to Jack Whicher who almost immediately suspects daughter Constance of the crime. However, charges do not stick. Whicher is discredited. The crime is confessed a few years later. The crime is interesting because of its influence on the new detective genre of fiction. Both Wilkie Collins in The Moonstone and Charles Dickens in his unfinished work The Mystery of ...more
The Book Whisperer (aka Boof)
Aug 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Aug 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who loves detective novels and true crime
Recommended to Sharon by: The free flyer at Books-A-Million
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
May 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: regno-unito
I expected a detective story set in the Victorian era and instead I got this great and extremely accurate historical novel that percolate into current times.
I enjoyed reading about Mr. Whicher and I suffered with him when the public opinion dragged him down. But what I enjoyed the most is being taken through the genesis of something we take for granted nowadays: the police force.
The tale is surprisingly modern: the media jumped on the story from the start, complaint about the detective work
Sep 21, 2009 rated it liked it
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,
Alice-Elizabeth (marriedtobooks)
3.5 stars!

Considering I'm quite local to the area near where this happened in 1860, I had no idea about this shocking real-life murder until I found a copy of this book in a charity shop. A young three-year-old boy is found slain outside the family home and fingers get pointed around various occupants including the victim's older siblings and the servants. Although I liked how accurate the geography was, the pacing was very slow-going. Most of the characters I wasn't keen on, due to their
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that I can totally see not being for everyone. It's extremely long-winded and provides a ton of information on detective fiction as a literary genre, leading to long stretches of the book deviating from the topic that is promised by the blurb. This is why I'm docking one star; otherwise this book could have been a new favourite.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is at its essence a non-fiction true crime novel about the 1860 Road Hill murder case. One night, the
May 03, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
Amy Bruno
Dec 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 24, 2009 rated it liked it
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 ...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
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a riveting work of narrative nonfiction that centers on the murder of an infant, the detective tasked to solve it, and the aftermath of his investigation--which led to his downfall. However, the book is much more than that. It offers a glimpse of the mythical status of detectives both in literature and in real life. You see, the rank of detective was created during the Victorian era and much of the public's fascination with them stemmed from the detective novel, a new genre at the time. ...more
Natalie Richards
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-book
A fascinating Victorian true crime story. There are also very interesting articles on google for further reading.
Jill Hutchinson
This is a strange book.....a mix of true crime, the rise of the detective and detective fiction of the mid-19th century. And it moves from one aspect of that mix to another with abandon.
The horrific murder of a child (called the Road Murder)brings Mr. Whicher, one of the first detectives of Scotland Yard onto the scene. Although he identifies the murderer in a short time, the public refuses to accept his conclusions and he suffers public scorn. Running through the narrative are references to the
Oct 16, 2019 rated it liked it
It was interesting to hear about the evolution of detectives in fiction and reality. I found the book was at times confusing, especially since I was listening to the audiobook. There were a lot of details and people to keep straight, which was a challenge at times. Overall it was interesting to learn about a Victorian murder case. This book spoils the plot twists of several Victorian classics, which I found maddeningly unnecessary. The spoiled books include Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, Bleak ...more
Do you enjoy Victorian literature? Fascinated by true crime? Then you could find a lot to enjoy in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which deals with a murder that rocked Victorian England – the death of the three year old darling of a middle class family, stolen from his crib in a locked house and found dumped in a privy with his throat cut.

Calling upon the Government to send one of its newly created detectives to solve the case (and receiving the titular Mr Whicher, one of their best), at first
DeAnna Knippling
May 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book was 100% in my wheelhouse; I may not be able to be objective about it.

A well-researched book about a) a sensational crime in 1860 England, and b) how people reacted to the new detective force investigating it. It traces the change from half-thief thieftakers to the more staid, respectable detective force--and why. I kept throwing my hands in the air at the way people protested the detective doing his job (although it made perfect sense, from their closeted, secretive perspective).

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
Sep 03, 2017 rated it liked it
During the night of June 29, 1860, three year old Saville Kent was taken from his bed in a locked house, brutally murdered, and left in a servant's privy on the property of the Road Hill House. After weeks of founts of information but no leads, a Mr. Whicher was dispatched to investigate. His suspicions fell on Saville's step-sister: Constance Kent. But the class differences between the family and the detective and the lack of incriminating evidence led to Mr. Whicher returning to London ...more
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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
“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.” 13 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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