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The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: The Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective | [Kate Summerscale]

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: The Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

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. 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 that Scotland Yard sent its best man to investigate, Inspector Jonathan Whicher.
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Publisher's Summary

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 of 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 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 Sergeant 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 author Kate Summerscale has fashioned a brilliant, multilayered narrative that is as cleverly constructed as it is beautifully written.

©2008 Kate Summerscale; (P)2008 HighBridge Company.

What the Critics Say

"Not just a dark, vicious true-crime story; it is the story of the birth of forensic science, founded on the new and disturbing idea that innocent, insignificant domestic details can reveal unspeakable horrors to those who know how to read them." (Time)
"A bang-up sleuthing adventure." (Kirkus Reviews)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.6 (98 )
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  •  
    Mark New York, NY, United States 08-07-10
    Mark New York, NY, United States 08-07-10 Member Since 2009
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    "Like reading case notes"

    If you like books that are all factual or reading case file notes then you'll love this. I you like a good story & getting to know characters do not buy this book as it was unreadable. If you want to read a great Victorian detective story buy Montmorency or The Somnambulist, both amazing reads.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adeliese Tucson, AZ, USA 05-23-09
    Adeliese Tucson, AZ, USA 05-23-09 Member Since 2008
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    "Suspicions remain long after you finish the book"

    I don't usually listen to true crime, but this book sounded intriguing and it is.

    Historical detail abounds. I knew little about crime in Victorian London, and found myself fascinated by the criminals, especially the tricksters, and those who prosecuted them. The period detail and meticulous setting descriptions are beautifully rendered.

    The author's speculation about Samuel Kent's possibly introducing syphilis infection into the family is intriguing. There are those who suspect syphilis lurks beneath every historical bedsheet, but there are solid reasons for the suspicion here.

    Constance Kent is without a doubt one of the oddest women I have read about. It is doubtful that you will come away from the book with firm conclusions. The final pages are both heart-rending and chilling. It is certain Constance will haunt you long after you finish the story.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gyn Las Vegas, NV, USA 04-19-09
    Gyn Las Vegas, NV, USA 04-19-09 Member Since 2008
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    "A Must Read For Every Detective Book Affecionado"

    One of the most riveting non-fiction books ever written. Kate Summerscale weaves the history of detective novels into one that holds the reader on tenderhooks with its own mystery. She breathes life into the characters with such skill that you can feel their deepest emotions with empathy and understanding. You experience the times and places of the past as if you were there to taste, feel and smell them yourself. Long after the journey is over, you will find yourself wandering back into the memory of this well written book.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda Lou Cave Creek, AZ USA 01-30-14
    Linda Lou Cave Creek, AZ USA 01-30-14 Member Since 2007

    Obsessive reader, 6-10 books a week, chosen from Member reviews. Fact & fiction, subjects from the Tudors to Tookie, Harlem to Hiroshima, Huey Long to Huey Newton.  In-depth fair reviews - from front to BLACK!!! 

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    "VERY INTERESTING"
    Would you listen to The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher again? Why?

    Yes, I probably would.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher?

    There's nothing "memorable" about the murder of an innocent child.


    Have you listened to any of Simon Vance’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Simon Vance is a master! You can't make a comparison when an artist ALWAYS gives a great performance. I listen to books that I'm not even interested in if Mr. Vance is narrating.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    That there were many "thinking" detectives long before now. Cops in the 19th century didn't have the benefit of DNA and all the forensics tools now available. Whicher was on the money with his suspicions. Unfortunately he was way ahead of time.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kristina Ithaca, NY, USA 07-02-09
    Kristina Ithaca, NY, USA 07-02-09
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    "Interesting story, slow pace, annoying narration"

    Unfortunately, this seems to be one of those books which does not translate well to the audiobook format. The narrator uses a lot of dialect and accents to illustrate the different speakers--an admirable gambit, but unfortunately all of the servant women have a strange, half Monty Python-esque sound to them, making their quotes both annoying and indistinguishable. The text goes into detail and with digressions through the case, which can easily lose the listener's interest. It seems like The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a book that it would be easier to follow in hardcopy.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lily United States 12-21-13
    Lily United States 12-21-13 Member Since 2012

    I am a crotchety lady who loves mysteries and Tudor times.

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    "Haunting & Exciting"
    What made the experience of listening to The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher the most enjoyable?

    The content is amazing, the narrative unwinds quickly and yet with plenty of suspense. It's super gruesome yet also sensitive and never gratuitously graphic, and it's real-life hero is a gem. Also the performance is absolutely amazing.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher?

    The ending is a stunning culmination of all the evidence in the book, and of course the actual crime I still think about sometimes (not necessarily in a good way)...seriously horrific.


    What does Simon Vance bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    He's a genius. His tone is fantastic.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    I love mystery stories (like Agatha Christie) and this was the origin of the genre of the English Country House mystery- fascinating to see how press disseminated evidence and got the entire country caught up in the puzzle of such a (even by modern standards) brutal crime and also to see how it influenced the writing that would come after for years and years.


    Any additional comments?

    I flinch at violence usually, as I've said though its not gratuitous and the overall information in the book is completely fascinating. If you love the "manor house" type mystery genre this is sort of an origins story and a real life version of something I thought was purely a literary device.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rhonda Worcester, MA, USA 01-24-09
    Rhonda Worcester, MA, USA 01-24-09
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    "I expected so much more.."

    This book was in Time, and Newsweek, and the NYT, and maybe my expectations were high, but I was bored, and I am not easily bored. The story with the oh-so-quick delivery just irritated me. I also give myself one star on my choice.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer ARDMORE, PA, United States 08-20-14
    Jennifer ARDMORE, PA, United States 08-20-14 Member Since 2011
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    "Tragic Murder at dawn of detective bureau"

    A crazy horrible tragedy, straight out of history. The 150 year old murder is recounted with details from what household members wore, the weather, the newspaper reports, and biographies of every person connected with the case. And put into context with other historical events and comments from notable figures (I was amused to hear so much from Charles Dickens on the matter). I feel bad for detective Whicher, his situation was impossible, first coming so late to the case, after the earlier investigators' fumbles, and then being vilified by the court of public opinion without the ability to explain his reasons or method, simply doomed to live in frustrated silence.
    Aside from the gruesome case and really messed up family, I enjoyed the analysis done by the author on the affect of this murder and others at the time on the public and literature of the time. As a purveyor of many detective novels, and having liked Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, it was interesting to see how the real life and fictional investigators found their rocky starts in Victorian England. It kind of enables another layer of appreciation for the genre.
    I shared Mr. Whicher's suspicions from early on, a disappointing end for the case in my opinion, but a well drawn non-fictional narrative. I have never been inclined to read "true crime" type stories before, but this one had my attention, I'm sure because it so closely resembled the fictional mysteries I enjoy (and some of which I now know took their cues from this real murder). Well written and well narrated. I always enjoy listening to Simon Vance.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dorothy Tyngsboro, MA, United States 01-02-10
    Dorothy Tyngsboro, MA, United States 01-02-10 Member Since 2009
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    "Didn't keep my interest"

    I actually couldn't finish this. I didn't realize it's not really in the form of a story - it winds around into other related bits of information but just didn't hold my interest.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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