In June of 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent was found at the bottom of an outdoor privy with his throat slit. The crime horrified all England and led to a national obsession with detection, ironically destroying, in the process, the career of perhaps the greatest detective in the land.
At the time, the detective was a relatively new invention; there were only eight detectives in all of England and rarely were they called out of London, but this crime was so shocking, as Kate Summerscale relates in her scintillating new book, that Scotland Yard sent its best man to investigate, Inspector Jonathan Whicher.
Whicher quickly believed the unbelievable-that someone within the family was responsible for the murder of young Saville Kent. Without sufficient evidence or a confession, though, his case was circumstantial and he returned to London a broken man. Though he would be vindicated five years later, the real legacy of Jonathan Whicher lives on in fiction: the tough, quirky, knowing, and all-seeing detective that we know and love today...from the cryptic Sgt. Cuff in Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone to Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade.
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a provocative work of nonfiction that reads like a Victorian thriller, and in it kate Summerscale has fashioned a brilliant, multilayered narrative that is as cleverly constructed as it is beautifully written.
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The SUSPICIONS of MR. WHICHERA Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
By KATE SUMMERSCALE
WALKER & COMPANYCopyright © 2008 Kate Summerscale
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTO SEE WHAT WE HAVE GOT TO SEE
In the early hours of Friday, 29 June 1860 Samuel and Mary Kent were asleep on the first floor of their detached three-storey Georgian house above the village of Road, five miles from Trowbridge. They lay in a four-poster bed carved from Spanish mahogany in a bedroom decked out with crimson damask. He was fifty-nine; she was forty, and eight months pregnant. Their eldest daughter, the five-year-old Mary Amelia, shared their room. Through the door to the nursery, a few feet away, were Elizabeth Gough, twenty-two, the nursemaid, in a painted French bed, and her two youngest charges, Saville (three) and Eveline (one), in cane cots.
Two other live-in servants slept on the second floor of Road Hill House - Sarah Cox (twenty-two), the housemaid, and Sarah Kerslake (twenty-three), the cook - and so did Samuel's four children from his previous marriage: Mary Ann (twenty-nine), Elizabeth (twenty-eight), Constance (sixteen) and William (fourteen). Cox and Kerslake shared a bed in one room. Mary Ann and Elizabeth shared a bed in another. Constance and William had a room each.
The nursemaid, Elizabeth Gough, rose at 5.30 that morning to open the back door to a chimney sweep from Trowbridge. With his 'machine' of interlocking rods and brushes he cleaned the kitchen and nursery chimneys and the hotplate flue. At 7.30, the nursemaid paid him 4s.6d. and saw him out. Gough, a baker's daughter, was a well-mannered, good-looking young woman. She was thin, with fair skin, dark eyes, a long nose and a missing front tooth. When the sweep had gone she applied herself to cleaning the nursery of soot. Kerslake - the cook - sluiced down the kitchen. One other stranger called at the house that Friday, a knife-grinder, to whom Cox - the maid - answered the door.
In the grounds of Road Hill House, James Holcombe, the gardener, groom and coachman to the family, was cutting the lawn with a scythe - the Kents had a mowing machine, but a scythe was more effective when the grass was damp. That June had been the wettest and coldest on record in England, and it had again rained overnight. Having cut the grass, he hung the tool in a tree to dry.
Holcombe, who was forty-nine and crippled in one leg, had two helpers in the grounds that day: John Alloway, eighteen, 'a stupid-looking lad', according to one local newspaper, and Daniel Oliver, forty-nine. Both lived in the neighbouring village of Beckington. A week earlier Samuel Kent had turned down Alloway's request for a pay rise, and the young man had given his notice. On this, his penultimate afternoon in the Kents' employ, he was sent by the cook to see whether James Fricker, a plumber and glazier in the village, had finished fitting Mr Kent's square candle-lantern with a new pane of glass. Alloway had already called for it four times that week, but it had not been ready. This time he was successful: he brought the lamp back and put it on the kitchen dresser. A local girl of fourteen, Emily Doel, was also at work in the house. She helped Gough, the nursemaid, with the children from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.
Samuel Kent was in the library, drafting his report on a two-day tour of local wool mills from which he had returned the previous night. He had been employed as a government sub-inspector of factories for twenty-five years, and had recently applied for a full inspectorship, in support of which he had gathered signatures from two hundred West Country worthies - Members of Parliament, magistrates, clergymen. A wide-browed, scowling man, Kent was unpopular in the village, particularly with the inhabitants of the 'cottage corner', a slummy clutch of houses just across the lane from Road Hill House. He had banned the villagers from fishing the river near his house, and prosecuted one for taking apples from his orchard.
Saville, Samuel's three-year-old son, came into the library to play while the nursemaid cleaned the nursery. The child doodled on the government report - he made an 'S' -shaped pothook and a blot - and his father teased that he was a 'naughty boy'. At this Saville clambered onto Samuel's knee for a 'romp'. He was a strong, well-built child with pale yellow curls.
That Friday afternoon Saville also played with his half-sister, Constance. She and her other brother, William, had been home from their boarding schools for nearly a fortnight. Constance took after their father - muscular and plump, with squinty eyes in a broad face - while William resembled their mother, the first Mrs Kent, who had died eight years earlier: he had lively eyes and a delicate build. The boy was said to be timid, the girl sulky and wild.
The same afternoon Constance walked over to Beckington, a mile and a half away, to pay a bill. She met William there, and the two came home together.
In the early evening Hester Holley, a washerwoman who lived in the cottages next to the house, called to return the Kents' clothes and linen, which she had laundered each week since they moved to Road five years earlier. The older Misses Kent - Mary Ann and Elizabeth - took the clothes from the baskets and sorted them out for distribution to the bedrooms and cupboards.
At 7 p.m. the three gardeners and Emily Doel, the assistant nursemaid, left Road Hill House for their own homes. Holcombe locked the garden door from the outside as he went, and returned to his cottage across the lane. Samuel Kent locked the garden gate once all the live-out servants had gone. Twelve people were left in the house for the night.
Half an hour later Gough carried Eveline up to the nursery, and put her in the cot next to her own bed, opposite the door. Both the children's cots were made of thick cane backed with fabric, and set on wheels. Gough then went downstairs to give Saville a laxative, under Mrs Kent's supervision. The boy was recovering from a mild illness and the family doctor, Joshua Parsons, had sent a messenger to Road Hill House with an 'aperient' - the term was derived from the Latin for 'uncover' or 'open' - which took effect after six to ten hours. The pill 'consisted of one grain of blue pill and three grains of rhubarb', said Parsons, who had prepared it himself.
Saville was 'well and happy' that evening, said the nursemaid. At 8 p.m. she put him in his cot, in the right-hand corner of the nursery. The five-year-old Mary Amelia was put to bed in the room that she shared with her parents, across the landing. The doors to both bedrooms were left ajar, so that the nursemaid could hear if the older girl woke, and the mother could look in on her drowsing infants.
Once the children were asleep Gough tidied the nursery, restoring a stool to its place under her bed, returning stray objects to the dressing room. She lit a candle and sat down in the dressing room to eat her supper - that night she had only bread, butter and water. Then she joined the rest of the household downstairs for evening prayers, led by Samuel Kent. She also took a cup of tea with Kerslake in the kitchen. 'I don't usually have any tea at all,' Gough said afterwards, 'but I did that day take a cup from the general family teapot.'
When she went back up to the nursery, she said, Saville was lying 'as he usually did, with his face to the wall, with his arm under his head'. He was wearing a nightdress and a 'little flannel shirt'. He was 'a very heavy sleeper, and had not been to bed in the daytime that day, and so slept all the sounder'. She had been busy cleaning the room in the afternoon, when he usually had his nap. The nursery, as Gough described it, was a place of softness, hushed and muffled with fabric: 'The room is carpeted all over. The door opens very noiselessly, it is bound round with list to make it do so, that I might not wake the children.' Mrs Kent agreed that the door opened and closed quietly, if pushed and pulled with care, though the handle squeaked a little when turned. Later visitors to the house detected the rattle of a metal ring on the door, and the creak of the latch.
Mrs Kent came in to kiss Saville and Eveline goodnight, and then went upstairs to look out for the comet that was passing through the skies that week. In The Times, the newspaper her husband took, sightings were being reported each day. She called Gough to join her. When the nursemaid appeared Mrs Kent remarked on how sweetly Saville was sleeping. The mother and the nursemaid stood together at a window and watched the sky.
At 10 p.m. Mr Kent opened the yard door and unchained his black Newfoundland guard dog, a big, sweet-tempered creature that had been with the family for more than two years.
At about 10.30 William and Constance made their way up to bed, carrying their candles. Half an hour later Mary Ann and Elizabeth followed. Before going to sleep Elizabeth left her room to check that Constance and William had put out their lights. On seeing that their rooms were dark, she stopped at a window to watch for the comet. When she retired for the night her sister locked their bedroom door from within.
Two floors below, at about 10.45 p.m., Cox fastened the windows in the dining room, the hall, the drawing room and the library, and locked and bolted the front door and the doors to the library and the drawing room. The drawing-room shutters 'fasten with iron bars', she said later, 'and each has two brass bolts besides; that was all made secure'. The drawing-room door 'has a bolt and a lock, and I bolted it and turned the key of the lock'. Kerslake locked the kitchen, laundry and back doors. She and Cox went up to bed by the back stairs, a spiral staircase used mainly by the servants.
In the nursery at eleven, Gough tucked the bedclothes around Saville, lit a nightlight and then closed, barred and bolted the nursery windows before climbing into bed herself. She slept deeply that night, she said, exhausted by cleaning up after the sweep.
When Mrs Kent went to bed a little later, leaving her husband downstairs in the dining room, she pushed the nursery door gently shut.
Samuel Kent went out to the yard to feed the dog. By 11.30, he said, he had checked that every door and window on the ground floor was locked and bolted against intruders, as he did each evening. As usual, he left the key in the drawing-room door.
By midnight, everyone in the house was in bed, the knot of the new family on the first floor, the stepchildren and servants on the second.
Shortly before I a.m. on Saturday, 30 June, a man named Joe Moon, a tilemaker who lived alone on Road Common, was laying a net out to dry in a field near Road Hill House - he had probably been fishing by night to elude Samuel Kent - when he heard a dog bark. At the same time Alfred Urch, a police constable, was walking home after his shift when he heard the dog give about six yelps. He thought little of it, he said: the Kents' dog was known to bark at the slightest thing. James Holcombe heard nothing that night, even though there had been occasions in the past when he had been woken by the Newfoundland ('it kicked up a terrible noise') and had gone back to the courtyard to hush it. The heavily pregnant Mrs Kent was not disturbed by barking that night either, though she said she slept lightly: 'I awoke frequently.' She heard nothing out of the ordinary, she said, apart from 'a noise as of the drawing-room shutters opening' in the early morning, soon after dawn had broken - she imagined that the servants had started work downstairs.
The sun rose two or three minutes before 4 a.m. that Saturday. An hour later Holcombe let himself into the grounds of Road Hill House - 'I found the door safe as usual.' He chained up the Newfoundland and went to the stable.
At the same time Elizabeth Gough woke and saw that Eveline's bedclothes had slipped off. She raised herself on her knees to pull them back over the girl, whose cot was drawn up to the bed. She noticed, she said, that Saville was not in his cot across the room. 'The impression of the child was there as if he had been softly taken out,' Gough said. 'The clothes were smoothly put back as if his mother or myself had taken him out.' She assumed, she said, that Mrs Kent had heard her son crying and taken him to her own room across the hall.
Sarah Kerslake said she also woke briefly at 5 a.m., then went back to sleep. Just before six she woke again and roused Cox. The two rose, dressed and headed down to start work - Cox took the front stairs and Kerslake the back. When Cox went to unlock the drawing-room door, she was surprised to find it already open. 'I found the door a little way open, the shutters unfastened, and the window a little way up.' This was the middle of three floor-to-ceiling windows in the semi-circular bay at the back of the house. The bottom sash was raised by six inches or so. Cox said she supposed that someone had opened it to air the room. She closed it.
John Alloway walked over from his home in Beckington and at 6 a.m. found Holcombe in the Road Hill House stable, tending to the Kents' chestnut mare. Daniel Oliver arrived fifteen minutes later. Holcombe sent Alloway to water the plants in the greenhouse. The boy then fetched a basket of dirty knives - including two carving knives - from the kitchen, where Kerslake was at work, and two pairs of dirty boots from the passage. He took them to a shed in the yard known as the 'shoe-house' or the 'knife-house', turned the knives out onto a bench and started cleaning the boots - one pair belonged to Samuel Kent, one to William. 'There was nothing unusual about the boots that morning,' he said. Ordinarily he cleaned the knives as well, but today Holcombe took over the task so that the boy could be ready sooner: 'I want you in the garden,' he told him, 'to help me about some manure. I will clean the knives if you will clean the boots.' Holcombe used a knife-cleaning machine in the shed. As far as he could tell, he reported later, none of the knives was missing or bloodied. He took the clean cutlery to the kitchen at about 6.30. With Alloway, he then spread the mare's manure.
Soon after 6 a.m., Elizabeth Gough said, she rose, dressed, read a chapter of the Bible and said her prayers. The nightlight had burnt out, as usual, after six hours' use. Saville's cot was still empty. At 6.45 - she noticed the time on the clock that sat on the nursery mantelpiece - she tried Mr and Mrs Kent's room. 'I knocked twice at the door, but obtained no answer.' She claimed that she didn't persist because she was reluctant to wake Mrs Kent, whose pregnancy made it difficult for her to sleep. Gough returned to the nursery to dress Eveline. In the meantime Emily Doel had turned up for work. She entered the nursery carrying the children's bath shortly before 7 a.m., and took it to the adjoining dressing room. As she brought in buckets of hot and cold water with which to fill the tub she noticed Gough making her bed. They didn't say anything to one another.
Gough again knocked on Mr and Mrs Kent's bedroom door. This time it was opened - Mary Kent had got out of bed and put on her dressing gown, having just checked her husband's watch: it was 7.15. A confused conversation ensued, in which each woman seemed to assume Saville was with the other.
'Are the children awake?' Gough asked her mistress, as if she took for granted that Saville was in his parents' bedroom.
'What do you mean by children?' asked Mrs Kent. 'There is only one child.' She was referring to Mary Amelia, the five-year-old, who shared her parents' room.
'Master Saville!' said Gough. 'Isn't he with you?'
'With me!' returned Mrs Kent. 'Certainly not.'
'He is not in the nursery, ma'am.'
Mrs Kent went to the nursery to see for herself, and asked Gough if she had left a chair against the crib, by means of which Saville might have climbed out. The nursemaid said not. Mrs Kent asked when she had first noticed that he was gone. At five o'clock, Gough told her. Mrs Kent asked why she had not been roused immediately. Gough replied that she thought Mrs Kent must have heard the child crying in the night, and taken him to her room.
'How dare you say so?' said the mother. 'You know I could not do it.' The day before, she reminded Gough, she had mentioned that she could no longer carry Saville, he being a 'heavy, strong boy' of nearly four, and she being eight months pregnant.
Mrs Kent sent the nursemaid upstairs to ask her stepchildren if they knew where Saville was, then told her husband: 'Saville is missing.'
'You had better see where he is,' replied Samuel, who had, he said, been woken by Gough's knock. Mrs Kent left the room. When she returned with news that Saville had not been found, her husband got up, dressed, and headed downstairs.
Excerpted from The SUSPICIONS of MR. WHICHER by KATE SUMMERSCALE Copyright © 2008 by Kate Summerscale. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Floorplan of Road Hill House xiv
Family Tree xvi
List of Characters xvii
A Note on Money xx
Part 1 The Death
1 To See What We Have Got to See 3
2 The Horror and Amazement 17
3 Shall Not God Search This Out? 27
Part 2 The Detective
4 A Man of Mystery 43
5 Every Clue Seems Cut Off 59
6 Something in Her Dark Cheek 77
7 Shape-Shifters 91
8 All Tight Shut Up 99
9 I Know You 115
10 To Look at a Star by Glances 133
11 What Games Goes On 147
12 Detective-Fever 161
13 A General Putting of This and That Together by the Wrong End 179
14 Women! Hold Your Tongues! 193
Part 3 The Unravelling
15 Like a Crave 207
16 Better She Be Mad 227
17 My Love Turned 247
18 Surely Our Real Detective Liveth 261
19 Fairy-Lands of Fact 283
20 The Music of the Scythe on the Lawn Outside 291
List of Illustrations 353
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Kate Summerscale has written a remarkable book, not only recreating in absorbing detail a shocking Victorian murder that reverberated across all of England, but chronicling how her main protagonist--Inspector Jonathan Whicher--became the model for all the great detectives in fiction. Though it's all true, she has written the book in the form of a classic Victorian crime novel, taking us straight back almost 150 years.
I found this book to be very informative. Not only did I learn about this horrible crime, but I learned a great deal about the development of the detective role from its origin to how we know it today. It helped to shed some light on the difficulties investigators faced when attempting to solve crimes at this time in history. Definately worth the read!
I really wanted to get lost in this book. I was a touch bored. Overall, the story telling gets a bit convoluted, making things difficult to follow. Being a huge fan of true crime and good old fashioned detective fiction, I was expecting to be riveted to every last word. Sadly, I had to force myself to finish.
You may know the outcome of the case but Ms. Summerscale gives you more than a simple who dunnit. She tells the story of the birth of the British detective and the impact of this case on all authors from then until now. It is a wonderful read and for someone who does not have all the information about the real story, it is a heck of a mystery.
It was hard to put down. Well written and researched.
Great material rendered dry as a textbook. This was touted as reading like a Victorian thriller and if so it would have been great. Unfortunately it has no character development and is simply a boring recitation of the facts of a horrific crime and the motives behind it.
Who is Mr. Whicher and what does he have suspicions about? How many out there have ever heard of him? No one? Now how many have heard of Sherlock Holmes? Everyone? Well, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would not have been inspired to write about old Sherlock if not for Mr. Whicher. Mr. Whicher was a real person living in England in the mid-1800s. In fact, every word of Summerscale's thick book is true. The main thrust of the book is about a horrible crime that occured in an English country house. In 1860, a boy of toddler age was found murdered on the grounds. To make matters worse for the grieving family, suspicion fell on some of the inhabitants of the house, including the nursemaid and the owner's daughter. To help local law enforcement, Scotland Yard sends its best detective, Mr. Whicher. After just a few weeks, he was sure of who had committed the murder, but could not attain the evidence needed to put the person in jail. In fact, he outraged people in the surrounding land with his, what they deemed, invasion of privacy. First, I want to say that Summerscale should be applauded for her, obviously, very thorough research of this horrifying murder. The book reads like a novel, which is very hard to do when one is writing a work of nonfiction. When she sticks with the murder investigation, her book is riveting. However, she tries to take on too much when she ventures off into discussing other cases Whicher is investigating and stories about other members of the Kent family. I do not really want to read five pages about William Kent's obsession with coral at 1:30 AM. I wanted to like this book....I really, really did. In fact, I read late into the night until my eyes closed. Then I realized that my eyes were not closing because I was tired. They were closing because I was bored. MY RATING - 3 (for effort) and 2 (for keeping interest) To see my rating scale and to read more reviews, please check out my blog: http://www.1776books.blogspot.com
I think this was the least interesting book I'vr read in years. The dust cover made me think it would be on the order of a Sherlock Holmes novel. Terribly disapointed.
Being both a history and historical true crime fan, this book was perfect. Very interesting, well researched and engaging. The author helps youto not only get a full grasp of the crime and how it effected everyone involved longterm. She also presents solid questions as to Constance's guilt and who might actually be responsible. I was very intrigued throughout the book and loved the snapshots of victorian life as well. I highly recommend this book.
I picked up this audio book because it's read by Simon Vance, who I adore. I wasn't sure what I was going to be listening to, in fact I thought this was a novel at first. But what it turned out to be was a literary true crime tale. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is about a murder and a detective, but it's also about the history of detectives -- both in real life England and in fiction. One of the things that makes this book so great is the fact that Summerscale explores the literary landscape of 1860s England (and across the globe). Perhaps not for everyone, but I totally enjoyed listening to this.
Non-fiction account of a child murder in an English country house and the role of the detectives in the investigation. The book also provides interesting background about the development of detective fiction, and the popular perception of the newly created role of 'detective' in the police force. This is a good book, but it could have been better. The narrative is quite short, and the asides are needed to 'pad' the result, which is fine, but too much effort is made to make the result akin to a detective story itself. The final resolution is impressive, but delayed too much. (Read May 2010)
I loved this book. First time I haven't wanted to put a book down for ages. Read in a couple of days.
I ordered this book from the library because it was mentioned in one of the footnotes to The Moonstone that Mr. Whicher was the Scotland Yard detective who was the model for Collins¿ character, Detective Cuff, in that novel. In fact, Kate Summerscale makes a good argument that Mr. Whicher was the model for characters of several authors, including Charles Dickens, and that Whicher¿s career was contributory to the popularity of the new type of novel that was the ¿detective story.¿The central idea for this true crime book is the account of the murder and subsequent investigation of a young child who disappears in the middle of the night from his bed, which is in the room he shares with the nanny. The details of how this case played out are intriguing and give a good idea of how the new Scotland Yard detectives went about their work. I also enjoyed the historical details about Victorian life and mores. In this area Summerscale has written a fascinating story of life behind closed doors in the middle of the 19th century, revealing how the different classes viewed one another and demonstrating the mood of the nation in this era.I do have a few quibbles with the book in that it could have been more tightly written. The author did a prodigious amount of research but she should have done a better job editing. Also annoying for me was the use of editorial metaphors in order to explain events. These slowed the pace of the story and didn¿t add to the reader¿s understanding. However, these were minor complaints and I recommend this book to anyone interested in the Victorian era and/or true crime stories. If you like love Victorian literature (which I do) this is a book you will enjoy. 3 ½ stars
An excellent documentary study of the Saville Kent murder in England in 1860, and the detective who tried to puzzle it out. The circumstantial evidence pointed to someone within the family, but Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher was unable to obtain hard proof or a confession. For this he was criticized by the press. This book lays out the case for the unfairness of this judgment: ineptitude and wilful obstruction on the part of local figures were at fault. The world of the characters in this research is as interesting as the details of the case. The reading runs smoothly, and the author is to be congratulated on a fine piece of work. Perhaps a humorous quip here and there would have added a bit of spice.
In the midst of reading Dickens and attending a class at the Newberry Library a classmate recommended a "true crime" history book to our class. That book is The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale and it is an excellent read for those interested in Victorian history, true crime stories or Dickens, at least as he relates to the development of the detective profession.The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher presents both the history of an horrific murder in an English Country House in 1860 and the life of Jonathan Whicher, one of the first detectives of Scotland Yard. The details of the crime presage our own era with its JonBenet Ramsey saga. In this instance it centers on the Kent family and their household. Ms. Summerscale does an effective job in presenting the details of the crime, but also focuses on the background of Mr. Whicher in a way that adds to the reader's interest. An additional advantage for this reader were the numerous references to Dickens and his friend Wilkie Collins who popularized the detective novel in Victorian England. The Dickens' character I most closely associate with detective fiction is Inspector Bucket who was introduced in Bleak House in 1853. Dickens interest in true crime continued from his early days as a journalist through his years as England's most popular novelist. This book falls short of the best of Dickens or Collins, but is a great introduction to one corner of the Victorian era, even if it is a grisly one.
True crime about a famous British case, the murder of 3 year old Saville Kent. Local police arrested the nanny, saying her motivation was that the Saville saw her and his father in a compromising position, but she was released. Whicher was the Scotland Yard detective called in on the case, and he arrested Constance Kent, the victim's teenaged half sister. Because it was 1860, people were horrified that he could suspect a young girl. She was released and Whicher's reputation suffered. The nanny was re-arrested and tried, but acquitted. Five years later Constance Kent, now having gotten religion, confessed to the crime. She emphasized that she bore no ill-will toward her half brother. However, her father had romanced her stepmother as her mother was dying, and subsequently neglected the children of his first marriage for those of his second, and there was known to be much family tension. She was sentenced to death but that was commuted to live in prison. She served 20 years, then emigrated to Australia, changed her name, and became a nurse.It¿s an interesting book, not only about the case but about detectives and crime-solving, which was in its infancy. Dickens had written about a detective in Bleak House in the 1850s and the public was fascinated by the subject. The author theorizes that the crime might have been committed by Constance's brother William and that she confessed to shield him. He became a distinguished marine biologist whose experiments with cultured pearls led to the modern-day pearl industry. Weird, huh?
True story about the murder of a young boy by his older half sister, back in the mid 1800s in England. One of the early examples of detective work. Author uses story to illuminate history of mystery lit. Not bad. Could have used more pruning.
This is a fascinating look at the dawn of the detective profession and the dawn of detective fiction. The two came into being in conjunction, and Summerscale examines the interaction between the two. She uses the Road Hill Murder as her case study - a gruesome murder of a young boy, in essentially a locked-room scenario. To fully explain the attitudes towards detectives in Victorian England, Summerscale also explains the dynamics of Victorian families. I know that some readers are annoyed by Summerscale's constant tangents into details like policemen's uniforms, but she's trying to bring to live a world that is very different from ours with some attitudes that are very foreign to us, and I found these tangents interesting. All in all, I thought this was a really interesting book.
Scotland Yard was created as a new branch of the Metropolitan Police in London in the mid-1800's. The detectives of the Yard were a new breed of policeman for England - part undercover cop, part spy, part investigator. These "men of mystery" captured the imagination of the public, and yet their methods were viewed as appropriate for the lower class, but not for the middle and upper class. The detectives were used as models for a new kind of fiction - what we call the Victorian detective novel.In 1860, the young child of a civil servant posted in the countryside was murdered in a case that caused a national stir much like, for instance, JonBenet Ramsey in the current day US. The local police managed to bungle the investigation initially, and one of the Scotland Yard detectives - Jack Whicher - was called in. Through the initial problems with the investigation and Whicher's rough techniques, the case became thoroughly confused, and a number of involved parties were accused of the crime. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher documents the case and the subsequent history of the involved parties.But Summerscale does more than that. Whicher's inability to bring the case to conclusion became a national scandal that carried over into the detective fiction literary evolution. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher gives some history of the detective story of the time, how the concept of the detective changed in fiction during that time, and how this case changed the public perception of the detective - both literary and real.Recommended, especially if you like Victorian crime fiction.
In the early morning hours of June 30, 1860 three year old Saville Kent was abducted from his bed and murdered, his tiny body discovered the next day concealed in the privy, his throat cut ear to ear. The case cast everyone living in the household under suspicion. Samuel Kent (Saville¿s father), the nursemaid Elizabeth Gough, Constance Kent (Saville¿s 16 year old half sister), and William Kent (Saville¿s 14 year old half brother) were to become the focus of the investigation, along with an odd villager named William Nutt who was the man to locate the child¿s body. Within a short period of time Scotland Yard dispatched Detective-Inspector Jonathan (Jack) Whicher to the scene. Whicher, known for his cunning and skill, and embodying all the traits of the ideal Victorian sleuth would later be demonized for his probing investigation.The Road Hill Case, as the murder came to be known, not only inflamed the public¿s imagination, but it also changed the way detectives were viewed and ushered in a new era of fiction called ¿sensation fiction.¿Kate Summerscale¿s book is at once a compelling and fascinating look at Victorian England through the lens of a horrific crime. Summerscale examines nineteenth century societal mores, the evolving view of women, sexual awareness, and the role of the news media and literature in shaping views of morality, guilt and innocence.Victorian women were seen as pure and innocent creatures, prone to hysteria and fits of insanity.Women were thought to be prone to insanity, whether as a result of suppressed menstruation, a surplus of sexual energy, or the upheavals of puberty. - from The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, page 244 -In addition, middle class English families had historically found shelter within the walls of their homes. Privacy was rarely interfered with - even when it came to investigating crimes.Privacy had become the essential attribute of the middle-class Victorian family, and the bourgeoisie acquired an expertise in secrecy (the word ¿secretive¿ was first recorded in 1853). - from The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, page 109 -When Whicher concluded that the murder of Saville had been commited by his sixteen year old half sister, and attempted to shore up that conclusion by probing deep within a middle-class family, the public (and press) were reluctant to accept his theory. Whicher was accused of exploiting the privacy of the family and the innocence of a young girl. In accusing a Constance Kent of the brutal crime, Whicher also seemed to be challenging Victorian beliefs.`The steps you have taken will be such as to ruin her for life - every hope is gone with regard to this young girl¿And where is the evidence? The one fact - and I am ashamed in this land of liberty and justice to refer to it - is the suspicion of Mr. Whicher [...] - from The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, page 154 -It was almost inconceivable that a respectable girl could be possessed of enough fury and emotion to kill, and enough cool to cover it. The public preferred to believe in the detective¿s villainy, to attribute the moral pollution to him. - from The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, page 154 -I found it interesting to read about the view of the press during the nineteenth century. Not only were they demonized, but later novels based on the Road Hill case and articles which referenced it were thought to be a corrupting influence on those who read them. I am reminded of present day arguments which suggest reading questionable material can damage young minds.The dizzying expansion of the press in the 1850s prompted worries that readers might be corrupted, infected, inspired by the sex and violence in newspaper articles. The new journalists shared much with the detectives: they were seen alternately as crusaders for truth and as sleazy voyeurs. - from The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, page 106 -In the early 1860s the emotions aroused by the Road Hill murder went underground, leaving the pages of the pres
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is the story of a murder investigation in Victorian England. Despite the author's claim that "the book is modelled on the country-house murder mystery" and "uses some of the devices of detective fiction," she failed to keep me engaged. I was expecting an Erik Larson-esque non-fiction as fiction narrative, but was dissapointed. Summerscale frequently digresses into history of Victorian England, the detective fiction genre, and crime investigation. While interesting, I found that it detracted from the main narrative. I was unable to overcome this and failed to finish the book. My own preconceived notions ruined this book for me, but it has been getting great press so, please, check it out for yourself.
This is a most ambitious book which documents the murder case of a three year old boy, is a biography of one of the very first police detectives and shows how this murder and this particular detective spurred on the very first detective fiction such as that written by Wilkie Collins. The book succeeds on all points and is a riveting and incredibly interesting read.The murder is quite memorable in this time period because it is the first time that public attention focused on a murder committed in a middle class home where one of the inhabitants of the home must be the murderer. At this time in England a man's home was literally his castle and the recent ruling that allowed police to enter one's home without the owner's specific permission was absolutely shocking to the middle and upper classes.The author takes the reader back to this time period (1860s onward) and expertly discusses the mindset and proprieties of the day which make the understanding of why this case was so scandalous for its time. The formation and early days of policing, plus the introduction of "detectives" into the force is fascinating, as is the life of the firstly lauded then scorned Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher. The references to the detective novels which were just starting to replace the sensationalist fiction of the previous generations is fascinating to the reader of Victorian literature. Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White", Dickens' "Bleak House" and several books by a popular writer of the times known only as 'Waters' are quoted and referred to often, though many other books are also mentioned.The book profusely uses direct quotes from contemporary sources such as newspapers, broadsheets, books, trial documents, journals, letters, etc. There are also a few helpful footnotes along the way and an extensive 'Notes' section at the back, along with illustrations, photographs, and endpapers that show the schematics of the house the reader is immersed in the time period.Well written in an engaging voice and obviously well-researched this is a gem of a book for those interested in Victorian life. Though the book focuses on a true crime and the police procedures of the time there is a wealth of information on all aspects of life in the time period. I also went into this book not knowing anything about the murder case itself and found the revealing of the investigation and eventually the killer to be as exciting as any mystery novel. Highly recommended.
A brutal, seemingly motiveless murder and the attempts of an exceptional detective to solve the crime are the crux of Kate Summerscale's compelling book ,The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. In the early hours of June 29th, 1860, four year old Saville Kent is horribly slain and stuffed down the hole of the outdoor lavatory. Although the family is not liked among the close community, the suspicion falls on the members of the household, including the maids, governesses and the Kents themselves. When the case becomes unsolvable for the local magistrates, Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher is dispatched to solve the crime that has so puzzled and horrified the town. What follows are the attempts of a genius detective to solve an unlikely crime. Through missing evidence, hazy claims of madness and adultery, and a public appetite for all the gory details of the murder, Jack Whicher becomes embroiled in the case that ultimately costs him his reputation and public regard.Whicher is the ultimate detective. Able to accurately pinpoint suspects using scant information and relying heavily on his own hunches, he rises through the ranks of law enforcement rapidly, eventually leading the first group of detectives in history. He is the model upon which the first fictional detectives are based, and his prowess and skill are fully highlighted in this book. Throughout the story, Whicher isn't afraid to pose unpopular speculations, and though the public denounces his hypothesis, he steadfastly works to bring the killer to justice. I found him to be a remarkable man whose abilities were far beyond the time in which he lived, far beyond what we even now expect a detective to be.One of the most intriguing things about this book was the public involvement and mania regarding this case. From the adulation of the detective prototype by the likes of Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe, to the involvement of the public in their mass attendance of the trial, the community's hunger for this case was arresting in it's detail. Many of the townspeople wrote letters speculating who the killer might be; one man even falsely confessed to the crime. It was very ironic that the public at that time was so negatively disposed to the idea of surveillance and detection. The idea that people could be spied upon and that their private homes and their proclivities could be brought into the open was extremely uncomfortable for them to imagine. Many looked upon the detective and his colleagues as unsavory operatives waiting to invade the sanctity of their private lives and abodes. It seemed as though they were eager to find out the secrets of the Kent family while shunning the detection that brought these facts to light. It must have been a fine line to walk for Detective Whicher, whose successes only compounded the community's distrust.The book was meticulously researched and heavily laden with facts. Not only was I privy to the social customs of the time, but also to other murder investigations, detective literature of the time, and facts about the principal characters' private lives. The book was at once enveloping and confidential, while still being surprising and unconventional. The suspense of the story was meted out in an atypical way, and although it ended in a conundrum that couldn't be solved, it was still very satisfying. The one quibble I had with the book was the tremendous quantity of facts throughout. At times it was a little overwhelming. Later chapters seemed to be balanced better and I began to see that the story may have sacrificed some of its urgency by displacing its factual density. The inclusion of photographs and maps was also an illuminating and welcome touch.This book was a very rich and intricate look at a crime that may not be familiar to many, but whose implications and originality have forever shaped the way crimes are handled today. An interesting approach to the crime novel and an enlightening picture of times past.
Story of brutal murder of a 4 year old in 1860 middle class England. Suspects abound--parents, servants, children, step children, etc. Mr. Whicher, one of the very first "detectives" in England is brought in to help solve the crime. He is stonewalled by police and the household, and in addition to a story of a crime unsolved, the book relates the class snobbery that prohibits Whicher from excelling at his job. Summerscale does a great job of generating suspense while she sprinkles the tale with factoids about real detectives and their fictional counterparts. A very fun read.
This book was an excellent example of historical true crime in the way of The Devil in the White City. The author did an excellent job of capturing the historical setting and cultural backdrop of the time while also recreating the crime and investigation in a style that echoed the popular detective novels of that age.