120. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (Kate Summerscale)

Monday, July 04, 2011
Now that summer is finally here, I've begun reading more.  Its wonderful to be able to sit outside on the balcony and enjoy fresh air, a cold drink, and a good book in the early morning or evening hours.  My first official summer read?  Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.  Nothing like a good Victorian murder mystery to get things started.

Here's the blurb from the website:

It's a summer's night in 1860.  In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet.  Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep.  About an hour after midnight a dog barks; the Kent's Newfoundland is known for reacting noisily to the slightest provocation.

The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery:  an unimaginable gruesome murder has taken place in their home.  The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is almost certainly still among them.

Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard , the most celebrated detective of his day, is sent to investigate the murder at Road Hill House.  With only an inept local police force to help him, and no material evidence, he faces an unenviable task - to solve a case in which the grieving family are the suspects.

The murder provokes national hysteria.  The thought of what might be hiding behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes - scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness, loathing - arouses fear and a kind of excitement.  Everyone has a theory about the identity of the killer.  But when Whicher reaches his own conclusion there is uproar and bewilderment.

Summerscale's version of the story starts off slowly, loaded down with an overwhelming amount of irrelevant detail. Honestly, its not important how much it cost for Whicher to rent a cab or to pay someone to carry his luggage.  However, I'm glad that I stuck with it past the first chapter.  The story is captivating and convoluted with any number of possible suspects.  In a world where DNA, fingerprints, voice recognition software, blood typing and any number of other modern crime solving techniques are as common as seagulls at a garbage dump, its fascinating to read about the early detectives and their methods.  The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher quickly finds its stride and takes the reader on a fascinating journey.

If you`re looking for an interesting read this summer, pick up a copy!  Definately recommended.  And, there is also a made-for-television movie version which was shown on ITV (UK television station, not the old Global Television) earlier this year.  I haven`t seen it yet but if its anything like the book, its bound to be well worth watching.


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