Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Book Award Challenge

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale - Samuel Johnson Prize

(blurb from Barnes & Noble)

The dramatic story of the real-life murder that inspired the birth of modern detective fiction.

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.

My thoughts - I really didn't like it all that much. It's certainly an interesting story, but the writing style felt more like someone's thesis paper than an actual published book. The author spent a lot of time comparing Whicher to popular detective novels of the time, and showing how this case created the detective novel genre, and those asides really detracted from the narrative, for me. It was alright, but not one I will be recommending to my reading friends.


Michele said...

I've had this in my tbr pile for awhile debating whether I'd like true crime as much as I like fictional. I'll still read it but won't be moving it up on the list! LOL Thanks for the review.

Katherine said...

I had a completely different opinion of this book! To me, the whole POINT of the book is that those novels were written based on the crimes that took pace in the 1860s. This particular crime was just one of many that gave inspiration to authors such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.