The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

or The Murder at Road Hill House.

I got a hardback copy of this book as a birthday present but just about every charity shop that I have been in recently has had a paperback copy, so it looks as if everybody has already read it.

Kate Summerscale wrote this book which is based on a true crime which took place in 1860 in a large detached Georgian house in Wiltshire. The family woke up one morning to discover that their small boy was missing from his cot. The house and grounds were searched and eventually his body was found. The grieving family are suspects.

Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard is sent for, he is a famous detective at the time that the profession is in its infancy. The whole country is horrified by the case and Whicher is sent letters from all over the country from people who think they can help him solve it.

The case inspired Wilkie Collins, Dickens, Conan Doyle and Mary Elizabeth Bradden amongst others, but it was years before the true identity of the murderer was known.

Kate Summerscale has interspersed the story with other cases from the era. It is breathtaking how stupid the murderers often were. They seemed to be good at leaving articles of clothing behind at the crime scene, which just happened to have their names sewn into them! Or maybe Mr. Whicher did a lot of ‘fitting up’.

He does seem to have been one of those detectives who decided immediately who the culprit was, because he didn’t like the look of them. I doubt if he was always correct.

Unfortunately there are still detectives around like that today and it takes years for their victims to have their convictions overturned. At least nowadays they aren’t hanged.

I did enjoy this book, although it does skip around a bit between various different cases. If you enjoy a Victorian sensationalist novel now and again, you should like this taste of the real thing.

2 thoughts on “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

  1. I read this a couple of months ago and thought it was very interesting — I was intrigued because Mr. Whicher was the inspiration for several fictional Victorian detectives like Mr. Bucket in Bleak House. I thought the creepiest part was how the truth about the family came out — some very weird implications.

    • I didn’t say too much about the family in case it spoiled it for people, but what a ghastly bunch. I can’t really get my head round it. Imagine if something like that happened now, I don’t think they would get off so lightly. I’ve never been able to get into Dickens, but I seem to be the only one. Maybe I should give him another go.

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