Thursday, October 21, 2010
Author: Kate Summerscale
Published: 2008 Pages: 314
Genre: Non-Fiction, True Crime
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!