The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

mr. whicher

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher was the second book my recently formed book club discussed. I thought it would inspire a great discussion on the history of detectives and police work, the psychology of murder and a fascinating peek into the world of a Victorian family and the Victorian press.

In June 1860 a small boy named Savile Kent is murdered in his home, Road Hill House, and found dumped in a privy. There is practically no physical evidence, not much cooperation from the boy’s household (composed of his parents, four older step-siblings, a young sister and several servants), and not much experience among the local police on how to investigate such a crime. Several weeks after the body is found Inspector Jonathan Whicher from Scotland Yard arrives to apply his considerable expertise to solving the murder. He quickly pins down a suspect while the newspapers criticize and ridicule his decisions and deductions. In addition, the case had become an obsession to the entire country (I was reminded of the Casey Anthony case recently here in America) with people from all walks of life, including Mr. Charles Dickens himself, contributing their two cents about who committed the murder and how it could really be solved.

Jack_Whicher_CDV
Inspector Whicher

Inspector Whicher was inspiration for the early detective novels of Wilkie Collins, especially The Moonstone, Dickens’ Bleak House and Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. The book club discussion didn’t touch much on this aspect of the novel, but several book clubbers did mention a desire to read Collins after reading this.

So, what did the book club think? I believe the majority of us very much enjoyed the book, though it was slow going in parts. There were a few members who didn’t manage to finish the book because it was so dense and detail laden. I had trouble about half-way through when the press accounts became overwhelming and repetitive – it felt like Summerscale was trying to pad out the years after the murder when not much was happening in the case. The end of the book was, however, riveting with its account of what happened to the major figures in the case long after the investigation was over.

The next book up for discussion in May is Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

If you’d like to win copies of Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym and This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart enter here.

16 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I’m glad you and your book club enjoyed this book. I read this book a few years ago but remember thinking it was pretty fascinating although gruesome.

  2. How interesting to know that Inspector Whicher was the inspiration for characters in Wilkie Collins’ and Charles Dickens’ books. I am so happy to hear that your book club has taken off. You will love Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. We had a great discussion about it in my book club. By the way, I am eager to read (reread) a second book by Barbara Pym after I finish rereading Excellent Women. Which one do you recommend?

    1. Have you read A Glass of Blessings? It is my second favorite Pym. Wonderful plot and a lovely main character in Wilmet Forsyth make it really delightful. I also love Jane & Prudence or Less Than Angels.

  3. Hmm, maybe a little skimming in the middle would be helpful.

    Hope your group enjoys Rules of Civility as much as mine did. I was especially taken with Towles writing.

    1. I haven’t started the Towles yet, but one of the members already finished it and didn’t like it :-/ I hope to start it this weekend.

  4. The description of the murder creeped me out so much that I had to sleep with the light on! and I found the revelations at the end almost as creepy. I was fascinated by how handicapped the detectives were, they had really none of the modern scientific techniques. And the idea of Constance Kent going into a convent, in lieu of jail! I’d love to recommend this to a book group.

    1. I don’t think my book club was as into it as I was. I think if the members enjoy Victorian history or literature it would be perfect. It was very creepy! Constance Kent makes my skin crawl.

  5. Glad to hear your book club is onto its second book 🙂 I love that the author has used an idea writers of the classics have. Even if it doesn’t end brilliantly it’s pretty brave of her and it sounds good overall.

  6. I loved the tv version and the book itself ,we just had a spin off tv show this weekend ,can see how it span off so much in fiction that followed the case ,all the best stu

      1. I enjoyed the original adaptation but Mr Whicher 2 was very long and plodding and had ITV drama stamped all over it. You’re not missing anything, Anbolyn!

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