Rated Reads

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

by Kate Summerscale

Rated: Mild

In 1860 in an English country house, a small boy is gruesomely murdered. Under the circumstances of the killing, it’s almost impossible that a stranger is involved — the killer must be an inhabitant of the house. But who? A well-known and impressively experienced Scotland Yard detective is brought in to assist in solving the case. Jonathan Whicher is the best.

Unfortunately, the time elapsed between the murder and the involvement of Whicher, along with the social mores of Victorian England, conspire to prevent Whicher from being able to definitively solve the case, and not only is it left unsolved for a number of years, but the fine detective’s reputation is destroyed.

Kate Summerscale not only brings the century-old case to life, describing the setting, the murder itself, the household and its members’ backgrounds, but she also — more importantly — uses the case as a springboard for describing the beginnings and rising popularity of real detective work and detective fiction in England, which spilled into the United States as well. The case of the murder of young Saville Kent is a fascinating one, but the larger picture of its setting in time and place, as well as its social, political and literary reverberations, is just as intriguing.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is not just entertaining reading, but educational as well in many ways.

Rated: Mild. Language use is almost nonexistent — less than a handful of instances of mild language. Only references to sexual behavior occurring, but no details. Most disturbing in the book is the murder at the center of it — a small boy is killed by being stabbed once and his throat slashed very deeply. The book is much like reading an in-depth newspaper story, in terms of how details are presented.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
  • by Kate Summerscale
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: