The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher – Kate Summerscale

Posted 21 October, 2010 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 22 Comments

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Title: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
Author: Kate Summerscale
Published: 2008 Pages: 314
Genre: Non-Fiction, True Crime
Rating: 4.5/5

Synopsis: In the summer of 1860, an infant child was found at the bottom of a well-to-do family’s outhouse–murdered in the most grusome and horrific manner.  Jack Whicher, a Scotland Yard detective whom authors Collins and Dickens portrayed characters after, was sent to solve the crime.  All of England looked on as the case unraveled, but what was uncovered about the Kent family, no one could have imagined.

Why I read this book: When so many bloggers are talking about something, it eventually becomes hard to resist. Plus, murder mystery? Victorian England? Detectives? Collins and Dickens? Too bad I let it sit on my shelf for a year before reading!

What I liked about the book: Summerscale’s research and writing style are absolutely captivating. Have you ever read a non-fiction book where each sentence is more tedious than the last? The kind of that give non-fiction a bad name? Definitely not this one! The Suspicions is one of those that has so many fascinating little tid-bits that I couldn’t put the book down. And it was one of those that I was constantly looking over at hubby saying, “oh my gosh, listen to this! Oh my gosh, did you know…!” Summerscale does a brilliant job of bringing slowly together all of the facts and theories of this mystery in a way that makes the book a page turner; she had me guessing all the way until the end of the book who-dunnit.

What else: What I loved about this book even more than the mystery portion was the way that Summerscale incorporated the social details of the era into the text. What’s always fascinated me about the Victorian era is how quickly discoveries were being made and inventions were being created and how thought processes were changing. But at the same time, things were still quite primitive in our modern-day sense. It amazes me that prior to the nineteenth century, detective work was essentially unheard of. How did people solve crimes? Or were criminals less creative back then?

But what I love about this particular time period is how the new detective work—deductive and empirical thinking—was reflected in the literature of the time. Summerscale writes about this in great detail and in many ways this book was like reading really interesting literary criticism about Dickens and Collins and Braddon and Poe, etc etc. To think that the authors of the day—the ones who have stood the test of time and are still being read nowadays—created characters modeled after Jack Whicher! Reading this book made me want to immediately read everything in these writers’ canon to continue to glimpse into the detective craze of the 1860s. I’m such a fan-girl.

Bottom Line: I read this book back in August and as time as passed I’ve forgotten any criticism I might have had about the book. Maybe I should wait two months to write about every book I read! (Doesn’t always work since sometimes as time goes on my feelings are a little less favorable).

Oh ya, Bottom Line: If you like history, murder, suspense, mystery, Victorian era tidbits and the writers of the time I think it’s a safe bet you’ll enjoy this book. It’s one I’d love to read again one day to pick up any details I missed the first time around and it’s one that I’ll recommend to non-fiction lovers or those who might be a little timid of non-fiction. If you enjoyed The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman, you’ll enjoy this book (or if you enjoyed this one you’ll probably enjoy those).

What is the most fascinating non-fiction book you’ve read?? (yes, I realize how impossibly broad this question is)

Off to scour the shelf for Victorian Sensaltionalist Fiction!

22 Responses to “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher – Kate Summerscale”

  1. This sounds great and I love Collins and Dickens. I haven’t read too much non-fiction, so maybe I’ll give this a try.

  2. This one’s been on my shelf forever. And Devil in the White City has been on my wishlist forever. Maybe their time will come soon. :-) The most fascinating non-fiction? At the moment it’s Bad Science. I didn’t realise that Suspicions was non-fiction actually…

  3. Amy

    I was a fan of this book as well, though found it a little slower to read. So much fun though! And neat that the authors were making characters based on him.

  4. yay! I loved this one just as much as you did :D I agree; the mix of modernity and “primitiveness” is one of the most fascinating things about the Victorians, and Summerscale captured that so well. And hooray for Victorian Sensation :D I actually have a few reviews of sensation novels coming up on my blog. I can’t get enough of them :D

  5. I would love to read this book! I am not usually a non-fiction reader as I do find what I have read tedious with the exception of Mans Search for Meaning. I loved that book. I agree with you on twitter. I think the last 7/8 books I have read I have loved. Always makes me eager to pick up another book immediately after I finish one cause I just want more, you know?

    Wow! I think there were a couple run on sentences there. Oh well!

    Cooking the sugar cookies now. Had to buy more measuring cups, the little drinkers!!

    How are you?

  6. *Kristi – This is a great one if you haven’t read much non-fiction. I also really recommend The Devil in the White City!!

    *Amanda – :(

    *Joanna – Bad Science sounds familiar but I’ll have to look up the details! Both this one and Devil are great non-fiction reads.

    *Amy – It’s been so long since I’ve read that I can’t remember how long it actually took. ;) And yes, fascinating that The Moonstone has so many bits from this case, including Cuff, the detective!

    *Nymeth – Oooooh, I can’t wait to see what sensation novels you have up your sleeve! Glad you loved this one, too.

    *Michelle – You had me laughing out loud with “little drinkers.” I know what you mean about tedious non-fiction, but this isn’t tedious. It reads like a mystery and there are so many interesting bits to the book!

    *Bibliophile – This one seems to be a bok that many bloggers love! Hope you’ll check it out.

    *Stephanie – The Victorian era is such a distinctive one, isn’t it? So many things happening in such a short amount of time. I’d definitely recommend this book to you if you’re interested in Victorian times!

  7. I have NEVER read a true crime novel before! BUT I am sure if i get my hands on this one, I will definitely give this a try..it has all the things I like..

    Awesome review, Trish!

  8. This is one of those books that I’ve heard so much about. I’m glad to hear that you liked it so much as it is one that I want to read. Great review!

  9. Perfect! My little Dickensian (albeit Hollywoodized Dickensian) self is doing a dance of joy. This one is definitely going on my list. Thanks Trish!

  10. I enjoyed this one but found it so so sad and the way the family dealt with in later on quite fasinating. I did find it had a ridiculas amnount of padding though as the main story wasn’t enough to fill a book. I’m glad I read it though.

  11. Oh my goodness you did great at writing your review 2 months after the fact! I think I would have forgotten most things! haha…

    And, I don’t know why but I always imagine this book to be a novel. It must be the cover art. Anyway, glad to hear you liked it Trish. It is on my wish list and one of these days…

  12. Oooo … I’m glad to see you liked this one. I loved it! It included so many of the elements I like in a book (you pretty much mentioned them all). My only regret is that I borrowed this one and don’t own it. I’ll probably come across a copy someday in a used bookstore and I will then happily buy it :o)

  13. This was a great book, and I remember liking it a lot. It does do well in the remembering.

    A good nonfiction read? (I can’t do all time, I’ll just do most recent memorable NF) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot. Excellent read, and very personal as well.
    I second the comment about The Devil in the White City. It keeps improving and improving after I’ve read it.

  14. I have a beautiful new hardcover edition purchased at last summer’s library book sale. Sounds like I need to read it – now!

  15. *Veens – Never read a true crime? Well, definitely read either this one or Devil in the White City.

    *Samantha – I hope you like it, Sam. The murder mystery was really interesting but for me what made this book was the discussion of Victorian detective literature!

    *BlackSheep – Nothing wrong with Hollywoodized Dickens. ;) I think you’ll find this one really interesting—and maybe even add a few Victorian lit titles to your wishlist!

    *Jessica – Yes, I do agree about the padding—but in a way I think that’s why these types of books work so well (these types being combining two loosely related stories into one). And it was so sad about the family—and even the maids who were involved that had troubles finding jobs afterwards.

    *Iliana – LOL! Most of the details are forgotten, I’m afraid, but if I ramble enough I can fill a lot of the wholes. ;) This one doesn’t necessarily read like fiction but the mystery part is really compelling. I was always guessing who the murderer was!

    *Terri – LOL—this is why I don’t use the library! Because what if I love the book so much that I want my own copy? I hope you can find yourself a copy of this one—it is a great one for re-reading or passing around to others (if you do that sort of thing…!).

    *Alisoninwonderland – I think if you liked DitWC you’ll like this one, too. Plus it has the element of Victorian literary tidbits. Another interesting one is The Professor and the Madman about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary!

    *Raidergirl – I’ve been seeing a lot about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks lately. I’ll definitely have to check it out! I love a great non-fiction read!! Have you read The Professor and the Madman?

    *JoAnn – Yes, read it read it! Because I know you’re just sitting around thinking “What should I read.” :P

  16. Trish – I searched out your post on this book after you commented on my Larson post. I’m intrigued, and I’ve added it to my list.