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The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House [Paperback]

Kate Summerscale
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (344 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Jan 2009
It is a summer's night in 1860. In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet. Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep. At some point after midnight a dog barks. The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery: an unimaginably gruesome murder has taken place in their home. The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is surely still among them. Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, the most celebrated detective of his day, reaches Road Hill House a fortnight later. He faces an unenviable task: to solve a case in which the grieving family are the suspects. The murder provokes national hysteria. The thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes - scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing - arouses fear and a kind of excitement. But when Whicher reaches his shocking conclusion there is uproar and bewilderment. A true story that inspired a generation of writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this has all the hallmarks of the classic murder mystery - a body; a detective; a country house steeped in secrets. In The Suspicions of Mr Whicher Kate Summerscale untangles the facts behind this notorious case, bringing it back to vivid, extraordinary life.

Frequently Bought Together

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House + Mrs Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady + The Queen of Whale Cay: The Extraordinary Story of 'Joe' Carstairs, the Fastest Woman on Water
Price For All Three: £18.37

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; Reprint edition (5 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747596484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747596486
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (344 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kate Summerscale is the author of the bestselling The Queen of Whale Cay, which won a Somerset Maugham award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread biography award. She has also judged various literary competitions including the Booker Prize. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House, published in April 2008, was awarded the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction 2008, the 2009 Galaxy Book of the Year and is a Number One International Bestseller. Kate Summerscale lives in London.

Product Description


'I can't think of another book which takes you so fast into the smells, tastes and atmosphere of that time.' -- Doris Lessing

Book Description

The fascinating story of a famous Victorian murder case - and the notorious detective who solved it --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
362 of 387 people found the following review helpful
This book is as much a history of Victorian social values and the emerging field of detective fiction in the nineteenth century as it is a book about a hideous country house murder in 1860. Researched using original police papers from the National Archives, books on the crime and many more sources, the book tells the story of the Road Hill House murder of 1860, when a three year old boy was brutally slain by another occupant of his home. The book sets out to detail the case, from the original event to the investigation by Scotland Yard detective Jack Whicher, to the aftermath suffered by the entire family.

It's extremely well written and well researched, and even though there is little to add suspense considering anyone with an Internet connection can discover the identity of the murderer, Summerscale still manages to inject a certain air of tension into proceedings, drawing things out as they must have unfolded at the time. With a peculiar ability to grab your attention and hold it firmly, the book is difficult to put down, and a thoroughly fascinating read for anyone with an interest in detective fiction, real life crime or a historical period that throws up as many questions as it answers.

Highly recommended.
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140 of 155 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The murder of a young child which took place at Road Hill House, Wiltshire in 1860 captured the imagination of the public and turned everyone into amateur detectives. The perfect example of a country house murder with a finite amount of suspects also inspired writers of the time such as Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

'The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher' is structured so that first, we learn the details of the crime, then we learn about the investigation which leads on to what happened next and the author's own theory based on the evidence. To say this book is well-researched in something of an understatement; if someone goes through a toll road, we know how much they pay; if someone moves to London we find out who they lived next door to; if someone left a will, we find out exactly what they left and to whom. I'm sure this level of detail would be irritating to some, but I found it absolutely incredible!

The book is also interesting in giving us a taste of the time, the attitudes of the people, the ways in which the Police force was growing and how events were shaping literature.

This is an extraordinary achievement and engrossing throughout. I can't wait to see what she will come up with next!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Real Page Turner - Couldn't wait for it to end 1 Mar 2009
I'm afraid Kate Summerscale's retelling of an infamous victorian murder really is very disappointing. I am aware that this is primarily intended as a factual account of the events at Road Hill House but she seems to lack an understanding of the fundamentals of the crime genre; the book was woefully lacking in drama, suspense and purpose and seemed to career all over the the place before reaching its welcome conclusion 300 pages later. I suppose some of the insights into victorian family life and the origins of the modern detective (both in reality and in fiction) are quite interesting but this can't excuse the book other failings. Other reviewers have commented that the book is more like a student dissertation and i couldn't agree more. Repetition, tangental meanderings and general padding were the hall marks of all my own student work but the problem is - it didn't fool anyone then and it doesn't now.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed 9 Feb 2009
I love a good murder mystery, more so if it's actually a true story. I also love reading about days goneby so therefore this book should have satisfied me on all accounts. However, this wasn't the case. After the crime was committed and we went through the normal where were each of the characters at the time of the murder, etc, I became thoroughly bored. I plodded on hoping that the pace would pick up again but sadly this didn't happen. I loath giving up on a book but I'm afraid I did in this instance. I became disinterested in finding out 'who dun it' and added it to my collection to take to the local charity shop.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shedunnit well 1 Dec 2009
I have watched this book sail in the seas of sensational sales for months and wondered why it was there. Now I know.
It is the best book of its kind I ever read. Perhaps it is the only book if its kind I ever read. It is difficult to define.
The characters reflect those in a whodunnit and yet they are real. Kate Summerscale paints them with warts and all, even the eponymous Mr. Whicher.
Then just when you think she's told you whodunnit you start thinking who whomightadunnit instead.
Baffled? Read the book.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Murder as a History Lesson 22 Feb 2009
I picked this book up, because it seemed to be everywhere when I went in bookshops or online, and it sounded intriguing. (Even before it became one of Richard and Judy's book club choices). The book seller said to persevere as you needed to concentrate, very true and recommended to any who wish to read this.

Kate Summerscale successfully weaves a real life murder at Road Hill House with how the public and the police reacted to such a horrific crime. KS gives us throughout the book, the biography of all the key characters of the Kent household, their servants and immediate neighbours. The position of detective Jack Whicher renowned of the newly formed metropolitan police at Scotland Yard, his career is laid bare for everyone to read as well as how he deals with the crime which has affected the Kent family.

The history lesson is throughout the book, what life was like in 1860 and the subsequent years. Domesticity, status and how the police were considered and treated, social history at its best if like me studied it at university. The connection with crime writers of the time is cleverly weaved within and you get to see that detective stories were a new invention and so much seems to have been related back to the Murder at Road Hill House.

The crime gripped the whole nation, and the press the length and breadth of the country became consumed in who did it and why? Theories were muted and everyone who was everyone had an opinion whoever they were and whatever class they were. The newspapers lived on the hysteria it provoked. There is such a comparison to today's media, and how they consume the majority of the newspapers with theories and information intended to shock but also get people talking and buying more newspapers!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book!
Very good novel, keeps you guessing. Very enjoyable read.
Published 9 days ago by Suze
2.0 out of 5 stars Not impressed!
I think I must be the only person on the planet who doesn't like this book. Its subject is very interesting and the murder is very sad but the majority of the book is just dull... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Pinkerton
3.0 out of 5 stars tough read
Interesting story but it is very slow in the middle with lots of repetition. Found it hard to read and maintain interest.
Published 2 months ago by A. Dymoke-Bradshaw
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely worth reading!
Well-structured “documentary” on the Road Hill House murder in the mid eighteenth century. The case coincided with the emergence of the first English detectives and she looks at... Read more
Published 2 months ago by mimi
3.0 out of 5 stars They made the best that they could out of it
Reading this, I felt that the style (and the subject) was more suited to a shorter magazine article. Read more
Published 3 months ago by H M Reynolds
5.0 out of 5 stars superb
hope more will come
great cast, great dilogue and nice paced dialoge.
more please, more please, more please etc etc
Published 3 months ago by S A Sintes-Barber
3.0 out of 5 stars History not Mystery
I liked this book it was a well documented account of the road Hill murder. But I was a bit dissapointed that it was quite so factual, going more into the archives related to the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Cherry Octave
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr Whicher
One of the first books written about forensic science and so was most intriguing. A gripping read and excellent Christmas present
Published 5 months ago by Jane Hutton
4.0 out of 5 stars Very factual but interesting
The important thing to know about this book is that it doesn't read like a novel. I wasn't fully prepared for that which sort of threw me off at first, but when you get in to it... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Bullen
5.0 out of 5 stars Came to last page, wanted to read all over again, immediately
This is one of the best books I've ever read. I do recommend it to everybody. This copy I bought for my mother, who had borrowed my copy and wanted one of her own.
Published 6 months ago by Maria Mårtensson
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