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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.

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings


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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.

41 of 44 people found this review helpful

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Witty, Horrifying, Brillant Page Turner

Any additional comments?

I had to scan back through my audible records to get the correct number, I've listed to 61 works of nonfiction in the last year. This was HANDS DOWN the best. The narrator was fabulous, he did all the voices which was just lovely. The writing was beautiful. The author perfectly captured the intrigue of mid Victorian England, the devastating and baffling nature of the crime, and the advancement of the field of detection. It was well balanced, well paced, and fascinating from start to finish. 10/10 and I don't say that lightly.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Gyn
  • Las Vegas, NV, USA
  • 04-19-09

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.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Lily
  • United States
  • 12-21-13

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.

25 of 27 people found this review helpful

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More academic dissertation than mass-market book

I was hoping for an interesting story about detectives in the early age of their development, about class and prejudice, and about The Road Hill House murder........but what I got was a highly detailed and referenced treatise on the Victorian Detective in Life and Fiction. Frequent references to literary detectives of the time (from Poe, Dickens, and Collins) mixed with any archived information on detectives that worked on the murder case in question - along with other murders of the time. But where the references would normally be in footnotes, these are all in the text, slowing down the story and creating a dry, academic study rather than a good factual story.

An interesting story but very badly written if it was intended for public (not academic) consumption.

29 of 32 people found this review helpful

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  • susan
  • Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada
  • 01-31-15

Scholarship combined with a terrific story.

Mr. Whicher and the case he attempted to solve were real. He became the forerunner of all our literary detectives beginning with The woman in white. The author provides the details of the case as well as relevant literary references and back stories. I had no idea what to expect and was utterly charmed and riveted by this book. "could not turn it off'.
Wonderful narrator.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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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.

28 of 36 people found this review helpful

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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.

15 of 19 people found this review helpful

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  • Rhonda
  • Worcester, MA, USA
  • 01-24-09

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.

19 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • New York, NY, United States
  • 08-07-10

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.

30 of 40 people found this review helpful