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362 of 387 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The birth of detective fiction and the death of a child
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...
Published on 11 April 2008 by Icy Sedgwick

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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
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...
Published on 1 Mar 2009 by H. Morris


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362 of 387 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The birth of detective fiction and the death of a child, 11 April 2008
By 
Icy Sedgwick "Icy" (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) - See all my reviews
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly researched and completely engrossing, 1 May 2008
By 
Sarah Durston (London) - See all my reviews
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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
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H. Morris (Brighton UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
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
By 
Cannizaro (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
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
By 
P. McCabe "Ingleton Chonicler" (Ingleton North Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
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
By 
Jo D'Arcy (Portsmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
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!

KS successfully brings back to life something which I knew nothing about and manages to place it not just in the time of the 1860s but also makes the reader think how such crimes are now treated in the twenty first century.

A good read, not one if you want to escape because as the book seller told me when I bought it, you do need to concentrate and at times it felt like I was back reading for university. However stick with it as it is worth it in the end.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Victorian Murder Investigations, Public Attitudes, and the Birth of Detective Fiction, 21 Jun 2008
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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If you are fascinated by the hypocrisy of the Victorians, you'll love this book. If you want to read a great murder mystery, you should probably search out a work of fiction instead.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher has a wide charter: Tell the story of the murder of three-year-old Saville Kent in his English country home, describe the police investigations, relate the public reaction to the murder and investigations, detail what happened to the characters, help us understand our psychological need to read detective fiction, and provide new insight into the seeds of the crime.

Although the book claims to give us a fiction-like description of the murder and its investigation, Ms. Summerscale's writing isn't quite in the style: She's clearly a non-fiction writer. She's also not very careful of the facts: There's a glaring example in her "A Note on Money" that precedes the Prologue. In the first paragraph she tells us a pound is worth $130 today and in the second paragraph she tells us that a hundred pounds is worth $120,000 today (Yes, she made two mistakes!).

For my taste the book could have been edited down quite a bit. There was about 150 pages worth of material I was interested in within 300 pages of text. She presumes that I want to know more about Victorian authors of detective fiction than I do, and I could have used a much shorter version of what happened next to everyone.

I thought that the two most interesting parts of the book were how modern the analytical methods were that Whicher used (opportunity, motive, and a search for missing clothing) and the commentary on how much we want our detectives to be supermen who always find the criminal (making us feel more secure while allowing us to be moved by the passion behind crime) rather than thinking about the victim.

As for the speculation about the possible seeds of the crime, I thought that the medical parts of that were pretty speculative. The other parts seem more plausible and should have been exposed earlier in the book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A labour of love, 16 Nov 2009
By 
Mr. G. M. Callaghan "Oak Roader" (Bedfordshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
This book is meticulously researched, well written and is a revealing insight into middle class Victorian mores. It was clearly a labour of love for the author who deserves credit for her attention to detail and for presenting the facts of the murder and its consequences in a clear and lucid fashion.

That said, I think the book promised more than it delivered as I was expecting a more lurid and voyeuristic version of the crime and its criminal; perhaps that says more about me than the author. There are many hints about sexual deviations and the double standards of the morals of those mentioned in the book but these traits are never really expanded upon.

I had also anticipated some sort of revelation about the crime - perhaps using 21st century forensic and scientific advances- but apart from a few vague suppositions (I don't want to give anything away) there were no new and shocking theories as to what might have happened or who really killed the child.

Given that the fates of the main characters involved were mentioned in detail I was surprised that there was no mention of the house where the crime occurred; its geography is set out in some detail and I'd have been interested to know if the house still exists.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just the facts, ma'am, 23 May 2008
By 
Pam Gearhart (Iowa) - See all my reviews
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I was slightly disappointed. The author did a fantastic job piecing together the wealth of information about the case -- newspaper reports, official records, letters, interview notes, etc. We know what everyone did in great detail. The author was careful to stick to the facts. She didn't fictionalize or make assumptions. That's good reporting. However, the result was that I was unable to connect with or feel sympathy for any of the people involved, even poor little Savile. All I had was facts, and facts can't put flesh on these people.

It's a good read, but it felt like something was missing. It's not the author's fault though. Unlike today's true crime writers, she didn't have the benefit of personal observation of the players. They just never came to life for me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight to a time not far removed., 12 Jan 2014
By 
J. Potter "johniebg" (Berkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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Suspicions of Whicher is a non-fiction account of a murder that took place in 1860. The book is a historical look at not only the murder, the people suspected and those trying to solve it, but also of the murder's place in history. It was an event that transfixed a Victorian nation, made and ruined careers and initiated a passion amongst the general public for crime mysteries that exists today.

At its core the book looks at the murder of three year old Saville Kent in 1860, who is taken from his bed in the middle of the night and found the next morning dumped in the cesspit with his throat cut. The police quickly realise nobody could have entered the house so the murderer must be a member of the family or the house staff. When the local police draw a blank one of London's top plain clothes detectives, a new branch of the metropolitan police, is sent to solve the shocking murder. The book in the main follows Detective Inspector Whicher's attempts to discover the murderer and his struggle to prove they did it.

The narrative structure despite being non-fiction works to emulate the type of murder mystery novel the case went onto inspire. This is the only negative I have. The narrative is clear and captivating throughout and does work as a mystery construct in the first half while the time and story are set-up. But by hanging onto who the murderer is, it gets frustrating, especially as it quickly becomes obvious who did it. The strength of this book is not in solving the mystery, but in giving us a revealing cross-section of a Victorian society that seems equally distant and incredibly familiar to the present day. At 30% I looked up the Road Hill murder to confirm who the murderer was, so I could go back and enjoy the fascinating world Kate Summerscale expertly creates.

It is the world created by Kate Summerscale that makes this book worth every penny and minute you spend on it. It gives a real sense of the time and very cleverly stages the era in context to the modern day. In 1860 the recent invention of the telegraph had opened up world communications in a way similar to the internet in the modern day. The availability of information had given rise to the popular press, who operated much as they do today. And with the spread of information criminals were better informed, giving rise to the need of specialist policing units. Despite the 150 year gap between then and now we are constantly shown the similarities between the times in the nature of humanity, strikingly how little things have changed in the constructs of society if you discount the technology surrounding us. The media and commentary of the time were unnervingly similar to what we are served today.

If you have any interest in history, the shaping of our modern cultures and the substance of humanity, then this is a fascinating window to look at the past through. The murder and its coverage became a marker in time, influencing many key figures including Charles Dickens. Once I started reading this book I couldn't put it down, finishing it in one night and day.

As an aside, the back of the book is full of references and some pictures, so the actual narrative finishes at 79% (Kindle).

Very highly recommended. I hope this was helpful.
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The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale (Paperback - 5 Jan 2009)
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