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362 of 388 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Slighty Disappointing.
The book covers the true, rather nasty and sad events of a 1850/60 murder in a English country house and provides a chronological revealing of the facts as they are discovered. There's a lot of information available on this case to give details of events from newspaper clippings, police reports and other sources. It also puts it into context of the time with other such...
Published 15 months ago by Hagrid's Umbrella


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362 of 388 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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141 of 157 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Slighty Disappointing., 17 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
The book covers the true, rather nasty and sad events of a 1850/60 murder in a English country house and provides a chronological revealing of the facts as they are discovered. There's a lot of information available on this case to give details of events from newspaper clippings, police reports and other sources. It also puts it into context of the time with other such crimes.

It's ghoulishly interesting to find out what happened and the ending is particularly interesting. Perhaps my own presumptions made me a bit disappointed overall as the title suggested to me an almost Poirot esqu solving of the case. This is added weight to by the initial, constant and rather annoying reference to detective fiction of the time * and how it was influence by this event and the detective. That and how popular the book was made me expect a bit more.

It is a fascinating case and the history of the parties involved is particularly interesting especially the later parts of the book but if you're expecting a Poriot or a Sherlock Holmes reveal leave this till you're lower on reading material.

* Be warned as the fiction referenced in this book often has its mysteries revealed without thought. If I remember correctly, the murderer in Bleak House is state with no warning. Other fiction is referenced and could have been spoiled too but I learnt to skip the bits discussing other stories. Moonstone, The Women in White, Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Alan Poe are referenced. This was doubly annoying as I read this so I could watch a BBC 4 Program that was reckless giving spoilers on fiction/fact I'd not read; including this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Very Suspicious Inspector Whicher, 18 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
"The Suspicions of Mr Whicher" details an investigation into a child murder which took place in 1860 at Road Hill House in Wiltshire. As the author Kate Summerscale makes clear from the start this was the first highly publicised 'who dunnit' style murder mystery to fascinate the press and the British public. This true life case became the original inspiration for every fictional detective novel written since.

Where this book is strongest is describing the details of the murder itself, the people involved and the investigation carried out by the detective Jack Whicher. It is an interesting case in itself, being a classic locked door mystery where you know that at least one member of the household committed the crime.

The background detail on the foundation of the Metropolitan Police detective service is fascinating. I especially liked the conflict of Victorian morality that objected to police officers being dressed in plain clothes and poking their noses into the affairs of respectable folk.

However, the actual substance of the murder and investigation only accounts for perhaps half of this book. The other half seemed to me to be no better than padding. False leads, eccentric amateur detectives and unnecessary background about those involved makes the narrative drag in places. The last few chapters of the book are especially tiresome as it describes the lives of the surviving family members far beyond any relevance to the murder case.

Although Kate Summerscale has obviously painstakingly reseached Victorian detective literature and does a good job of referring to this throughout, I would have preferred to have seen more detail about how the case had such an impact on the birth of sensationalist journalism. No reference is made to the later Ripper murders which had a similar handling by a press hungry to sell newspapers by dramatising and revelling in the details of particularly gruesome crimes.

"The Suspicions of Mr Whicher" is well worth reading, but it does have its flaws. It's front cover proclaims it "the Richard and Judy number one bestseller" as though that was the equivalent of the Pulitzer. If you want to know more about early Victorian policing and the birth of detective literature though you should find this an interesting and intriguing book which is also easy and enjoyable to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What happens when our belief systems meet head-on, 11 Aug. 2013
This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
The author is a biographer, an archivist and a social historian. But unlike many archivists and historians - who can sometimes sound dull and over-academic, she has at her fingertips an added dimension - the gift of story-telling.
Her style is succinct, fast-moving and direct. But the underlying strength of what she has to say lies not merely in 'reporting' the things that happened at the time, but in her shrewdness in knowing precisely which letters , newspaper quotations or comments to include and which to leave out. And it is this tight way of putting-together the relevant issues and reporting these in her fast and efficient way that gives the story its acceleration and excitement.
However, for me, the over-riding appeal of the book lies particularly in the way Kate Summerscale explains how (we) the public respond to given situations: how we all make unexamined assumptions - from the 'posse' mentality of - 'Hang the first person one finds loitering near the scene of the crime', through to the 'scapegoat' mentality of attempting to satisfy the public in whatever way one deems necessary - i.e. 'Blame someone rather than no one'. So from the fantasy world of unexamined assumptions - that personal interior cinema of the mind in which anything goes, we ignore fact, then jump to our convenient conclusions (See Stuart Sutherland's brilliant book 'Irrationality: The Enemy Within' - think Tony Blair ... think me, you, every one of us ...)
Given all that, it is little wonder that the approach of dear Mr Whicher - a person who seeks facts through the medium of reason and the exercise of a rational mind, meet head-on with a public whose desire is for a quick-fix solution. It'a all a fine example of what happens when our belief systems meet head-on.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Young Saville - gone but now not forgotten., 16 Oct. 2012
This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
A true life crime which has all the hallmarks of a fictional whodunnit - a Gothic mansion, a plethora of suspects and sudden violent death. A story made all the more tragic by the fact that it really happened. This is a story which has at its core those basest of human emotions - jealously and vengeance - which in this case were taken out against a young child. Its themes are the stuff that drives fiction: money, class, marginalisation, betrayal and fury; yet this is not so much a whodunnit as a how to go about catching them what done it.
Some accuse Kate Summerscale of weighing the plot down with detail, but I don't agree because for me it is the detail which makes the book. Even with the sophistication of our science the police can't always solve every murder or violent crime. Mr Wicher had only his brain (and his suspicions) to rely on and yet, although there are some who won't agree with this, I think he probably got his man, although justice may not have been entirely done.
I would recommend this book for a number of reasons. It's a fascinating study of Victorian life and middle-class mores in which none of the characters come off particularly well and are exposed for what they were. It's a study in how Victorian detectives had to work. If that's not enough for you, because of the lack of forensic evidence, the book allows the reader to challenge the real-life ending, which is always satisfying. It's also a study in how gender and youth provokes assumption and preconception; and that's because it's basically a study in human nature, as is all violent crime. Not only did we learn of the crime and the probable reasons why it occurred, but the public fury directed against Mr Wicher following his arrest of the prime suspect has certain modern-day parallels if you compare it to some high-profile murder trials of recent years, and in my view for largely the same reasons.
Finally - the book should be applauded for allowing us to remember young Saville. Gone but now not forgotten.

The Magpie Murders - Omnibus Edition

Jane Hetherington's Adventures in Detection Omnibus (Books 1-3)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When fact becomes a truly readable tale, 4 Feb. 2012
By 
R. A. Davison (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)
Winner of The Galaxy Book Of The Year, British Book Awards 2009, Winner of the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize and Shortlisted for The Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger, this book has considerable pedigree. It was also A Richard and Judy Number One Bestseller, but never mind.

In a nice, middle class family, with a nice middle class home in June 1860, a toddler vanishes from his bed in the middle of the night. His bloodied, brutalised corpse is discovered the following day, but who did it? And why?

The Murder At Road Hill House isn't just A Locked Room Mystery, of the sort you see in many Agatha Christie novels or the sort you compete to solve when you play a game of Cluedo. It is THE Locked Room Mystery. The original real-life crime, which inspired popular detective fiction of the era, and the impact of which is still felt in crime fiction today. For those who don't know what is meant by Locked Room Mystery, it is now the fodder of Murder Mystery Weekends. A murder occurs in a country house, the doors were locked for the night, the only possible culprit has to have resided in the house that evening. It's been seen in Poirot, Marple, Doctor Who and even most recently in Steig Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo albeit on a grander scale. In the case of Road Hill House, there was no elaborate dinner party involving a vicar, a disgruntled nephew, and a wealthy American socialite; just the Kent family, a husband and wife, seven children and a few servants.

Jack Whicher was among a new breed of plain clothes detectives recently established by Scotland Yard sent to Wiltshire to help solve the crime, but the locals and the nation at large reject his findings. What emerges is an astonishing picture of just how fallible and frankly rubbish the early judiciary system was in Britain. To question someone of good social standing or class, or of an age or gender that would be unseemly, is considered an affront to decency regardless of grounds, but it is the class system that truly is an over-riding factor. In addition, public speculation was apparently encouraged with any Tom Dick or Harry across the nation as a whole believing they had the right to have a say on the case. Juror meetings were held in public, cross examination was ridiculously biased, and the press were allowed a veritable free-for-all on editorial comment.

The utter lack of respect for the legal process is breathtaking, and Summerscale comments at length at the way in which though Mr Whicher had his suspicions, the nation had its suspicions of Whicher. The very existence of a plain clothes force was again considered an affront to decency, the privacy of the Englishman and his home were at stake. These values apparently worth more than the advantages of modern progress in crime solving. Following the Road Hill House case Whicher finds himself a laughing stock and his career is ruined. Whilst fictional detectives of the type written by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens surged in popularity their real-life counterparts were considered 'vile' and 'grubby'.

Where this non fiction book succeeds is in the way in which it brings the story of The Kent Family in the earlier half of the book to life, almost but not quite in the manner of a Victorian novel. Where it slightly falters are the moments in which it begins to read like a PhD thesis, and becomes a bit dry and academic. What is certain though is the phenomenal amount of research and background work Summerscale has put into this book, and the respect it deserves for breathing new life into an old but highly influential tale. 9/10
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to like this more than I did..., 5 Oct. 2011
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This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
I'd been looking at this text for a while, having recently discovered a fascination for true crime.

The book starts off well, and for the time it focusses on the story of the Road Hill House murder, it is extremely interesting. It's meticulously researched, I'll say that for it. What I didn't enjoy was how often Ms. Summerscale goes off on a tangent. The tangents aren't entirely obscure but I often felt I was forcing myself to read the analysis of Poe (and I absolutely love Poe's work), Dickens, Wilkie Collins etc. This text is as much a study of the development of detective fiction as it is an account of a murder.

Having said that, I understand why Summerscale puts so much emphasis on how the fictional detective evolved and it's because Mr Whicher and his proteges inspired so many of these authors. I still didn't find the frequent quotes from the aforementioned authors' texts to be of particular interest to me.... I wanted to details of the murder, how the culprit was caught, what happened at the trail and what was the impact?

Summerscale does cover these areas very well though and in impeccible detail, which is why I persevered with the tangents she frequently went off on. This text, like other reviewes have noted, is as much a social commentary of the Victorian era than anything else. We are shown how the attitude of "it couldn't possibly have been a middle class person who did this!" prevailed, and are also shown how the assumption was that the murder must have been committed by one of the hired help, even when the evidence spoke to the contrary. We're given detail of clashes of religious belief, a distaste and fascination for the concept of the detective and how Victorian society adhered to the notion of an Englishman's home is most definitely his castle.

All in all, I can say this text did grab me but it didn't hold my interest, and at times I was forcing myself to continue reading. That said, when the story moved back to the murder I read it with relish.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good historical book on Victorian values and detectives, 1 Jun. 2009
This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
This book is the true story of an intriguing murder of a young child which took place at Road Hill House, in 1860. The author collated a vast amount of reports, national archives, official records, letters, interview notes, etc together to provide an incredibly comprehensive description of the case. I found it interesting to read about how the detective - Jonathan Whicher investigated the case and felt quite aggrieved for him that it reached an inconclusive end, until a shocking confession in 1865. The murder provoked a lot of unrest at the time and the finger was pointed at most of the family and staff. I found it interesting to read about the Victorian ideas of privacy compared to the current day and how the female suspects were treated by the police, public and the press, it made me think about how different the case would be handled today.

For me personally it was disappointing. Albeit interesting, it was very much a book about the history of Victorian social values and I found it read very much like a university thesis, encompassing as many quotes from other `detective' novels as it could. In my opinion, some of these extracts were superfluous and didn't `add' to the book. It must have been fascinating and extremely hard work for Kate Summerscale to put together the content for the book.

Some critics have criticised Kate for not adding any additional padding to make it feel more like a novel but this was obviously her intention and she was very careful not to make assumptions about how anyone, particularly the parents, were feeling when the murder of Saville happened.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 8 Feb. 2009
This review is from: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Paperback)
I began this book with high expectations - the reviews I had read were almost all very positive - but by the end was left feeling disappointed. While I found it a fascinating - if disturbing - story, and the details of the investigation were well described, in my opinion the author did not do her material justice. We were told very little, for example, about the backgrounds of the family members and servants in the house. Records available to any amateur genealogist (censuses, parish records etc.) would have provided a wealth of information that could have been used to bring these people to life. Also, I was led to believe that the book went into all the little details of the life of a Victorian household - this was not the case. The details that were included were really interesting, but they were few and far between.

I feel that far too much time was spent trying to force the murder case into some sort of literary framework. But these were real people, and I wanted to know about them and their lives, not about the tenuous connections the author has contrived to make between the case and the development of detective fiction. It was almost as if the author felt apologetic about the fact that she was writing what is, let's face it, a true crime story, and felt obliged to 'high-brow' it up with allusions to literature.

The people involved, and their motivations, were central to this story but I felt that they were not as central to the book as they should have been.
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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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