Book Reviews

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

The Suspicions of Mr WhicherTitle: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
Author: Kate Summerscale
Rating: ★

When three-year-old Saville Kent is murdered, everyone is quick to point their fingers at each other. Speculation shows that the child saw two people fornicating who shouldn’t have been, or was it jealousy? What was the exact motive?

The word ‘clue’ derives from ‘clew’, meaning a ball of thread or yarn. It had come to mean ‘that which points the way’ because of the Greek myth in which Theseus uses a ball of yarn, given to him by Ariadne, to find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth

The above quote is about the only useful piece of knowledge in the entire novel. I know I am being extremely harsh, but I absolutely hated this book and I think it is the only one that I have ever not completely finished. This was also the general consensus of my monthly book discussion group. 

If you like history books, then this is the book for you. It is actually considered nonfiction (not bad, but not for me for this genre), which I didn’t know initially. The novel is based on the Road Hill murder case. What bothered me was that there almost was a distinction of two stories instead of the one. While used for comparison, I didn’t feel like it added anything to the story. If anything, to me, it took away from the novel. And honestly, kind of being in a reading slump, a history book was not good for it. Some things I did find interesting, however, the summation of the novel could be cut in half without the alternating of history and the “present” (story, not this time period).

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?

What I found annoying (and this was popular in that time period) was that if a woman disagreed about anything, she was considered insane. I’m not a feminist, but why women? It was typical for guys to cheat in that time, yet we are the ones “insane” for not being tolerable of those actions. It is sad that just gossip alone could distinguish someone as “mad” or “insane” and everyone would believe it and convict someone for that. It ruined a lot of people’s lives.

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

The one historical element that I found to be beneficial was that this case, with Mr. Whicher, set the tone for all murder mysteries to come. Honestly, this story was kind of sad. There was so much ridicule for the family. Not only them, but it destroyed Whicher’s career, when he was right all along. What is interesting is that in order to put someone on trial very little actual evidence, if not just suspicion, is needed. All of the media makes it much worse for those people. Talk about gossip!

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this novel to anyone. It felt like torture the whole time I was reading it. The potential was there, but the execution was not for me. If you like historical nonfiction, you may enjoy this. It just wasn’t the book for me.


Will the murderer ever reveal him/herself? What will happen to him/her? Was the person who confessed the true murderer? Did s/he have help? What really happened to little Saville?


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