September 01, 2008

Review: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
by Kate Summerscale

It almost seems redundant to summarize this investigative case study yet again as so many bloggers have reviewed this one in recent weeks but I can't say it any better than the first sentences of the introduction:

"This is the story of a murder committed in an English country house in 1860, perhaps the most disturbing murder of its time. The search for the killer threatened the career of one of the first and greatest detectives, inspired a 'detective-fever' throughout England, and set the course of detective fiction."

What you will find between the covers is a vastly well researched account drawn from newspaper articles, court records, correspondence and published accounts written after the tragedy. The notes and bibliography sections alone are 40 pages worth. Every detail that could possibly be found out about this case, the people involved and public opinion at the time were drawn out and redrawn into a chronology meant to give the reader a chance to see it from all angles. The sheer volume of details could be overwhelming at times but I believe this to have been intentional. Overwhelmed is exactly what everyone involved with the case was; everyone except Mr. Whicher who had such confidence in his assessment from such an early point and never wavered from it that the public considered him dangerously arrogant, determined to destroy an innocent youth. There was a point when I thought there was some extraneous detail but it soon proved to be of importance to Ms. Summerscale's purpose. All I can say is, "Very well done."

One of the elements that held my interest throughout was the inclusion of excerpts and background from popular detective fiction that the case inspired. I now have small list of books I want to read right away but with an eye for connections to this story:

  • Lady Audley's Secret

  • The Woman in White

  • The Moonstone

  • Bleak House

  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood

  • The Turn of the Screw

Two of these titles are in my RIP III "pool" (along with this book) making them my enthusiastic choices for reading, at least for today.

While the presentation is full and unadorned I wouldn't call it dry. I wanted to keep reading to find out what else there was to discover. And there are new revelations in each chapter, including the five paragraph Afterword. I highly recommend this title.

Buy this book on Amazon


Sarah said...

This has got a lot of attention lately, I'm glad to hear you think deservedly so as I've been thinking about reading it.

I've read The Woman in White, The Mooonstone and The Turn of the Screw and enjoyed them all very much. I hope to read the others in time as well, so will be interested in your thoughts.

Nicole said...

I have Suspicions on my shelf to be read sooner rather than later. It sounds so interesting and maybe a little like something I wasn't expecting.

Trish said...

I SO want this book!! I'm glad you enjoyed it--hopefully I can get my hands on it soon. I read The Moonsotne and Lady Audley's Secret for a college course (Victorian sensationalism) and they were both fun reads. I've heard great things about The Woman in White.

Carrie K said...

I don't remember reading about this one but maybe they're all blurring together? It sounds excellent. I've read all but The Mystery of Edwin Drood on your list and liked those books as well. Maybe not The Turn of the Screw. Scary/creepy! lol.

Tara said...

Thanks for the review! I really want to read this one.

C. B. James said...

That's a terrific little reading list. I'd like to recommend Lady Audley's Secret. It's a very exciting, maybe a bit over the top, tale about a poor woman who'll stop at nothing to secure a wealthy lifestyle. It also reveals the dark underside of Victorian marriage. It was a sensation in it's day.

Traci said...

I've got this on my TBR shelf. I really should get to it.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I saw this on the RIP Challenge site − I've been thinking about reading this myself but I don't usually have much patience for non-fiction. I'll have to add it to my list and see how it goes!

Kate said...

Wow - this sounds great, and I'd never heard of it. Thanks for the tip!

Framed said...

Oooh, I will definitely have to read this. And I recommend Moonstone and The Woman in White.

Amy @ Passages to the Past said...

Hi! My name is Amy and I have a blog called Passages to the Past. I am writing a review for this book and linked to your review. Hope you don't mind.

You can see it at


farmlanebooks said...

I finished this book last week, and loved it too! It has to be my favorite read of the year so far! I’ve just started reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins - I’m interested to see the similarities!