132. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale

Pages: 304
Finished: July 26, 2008
First Published: Apr. 2008
Genre: true crime, nonfiction, history
Awards: Samuel Johnson Award for Nonfiction 2008
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: The publisher, Walker & Company, sent me a Review Copy. Book Award Challenge.

First sentence:

This is the story of a murder committed in an English country house in 1860,
perhaps the most disturbing murder of its time.

Comments: This is a most ambitious book which documents the murder case of a three year old boy, is a biography of one of the very first police detectives and shows how this murder and this particular detective spurred on the very first detective fiction such as that written by Wilkie Collins. The book succeeds on all points and is a riveting and incredibly interesting read.

The murder is quite memorable in this time period because it is the first time that public attention focused on a murder committed in a middle class home where one of the inhabitants of the home must be the murderer. At this time in England a man's home was literally his castle and the recent ruling that allowed police to enter one's home without the owner's specific permission was absolutely shocking to the middle and upper classes.

The author takes the reader back to this time period (1860s onward) and expertly discusses the mindset and proprieties of the day which make the understanding of why this case was so scandalous for its time. The formation and early days of policing, plus the introduction of "detectives" into the force is fascinating, as is the life of the firstly lauded then scorned Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher. The references to the detective novels which were just starting to replace the sensationalist fiction of the previous generations is fascinating to the reader of Victorian literature. Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White", Dickens' "Bleak House" and several books by a popular writer of the times known only as 'Waters' are quoted and referred to often, though many other books are also mentioned.

The book profusely uses direct quotes from contemporary sources such as newspapers, broadsheets, books, trial documents, journals, letters, etc. There are also a few helpful footnotes along the way and an extensive 'Notes' section at the back, along with illustrations, photographs, and endpapers that show the schematics of the house the reader is immersed in the time period.

Well written in an engaging voice and obviously well-researched this is a gem of a book for those interested in Victorian life. Though the book focuses on a true crime and the police procedures of the time there is a wealth of information on all aspects of life in the time period. I also went into this book not knowing anything about the murder case itself and found the revealing of the investigation and eventually the killer to be as exciting as any mystery novel. Highly recommended.


  1. I really enjoy these types of books. Nice review - thanks!

  2. This is a great review. I have this one on my TBR stack already. Can't wait to get to it!


  3. I just read another review for this book and immediately put it on my wishlist--you've definitely confirmed my decision to do so!! This sounds fantastic. Quick question--how do you go about getting advanced copies of books? Did you contact the publisher or did they contact you?? This is something I'm interested in doing and I've seen people put their email address on their blogs but didn't know if there was another way to go about it. Thanks!! :)

  4. Hi Trish,

    There are many different ways I get advance copies, sometimes I make the contact and sometimes the publisher or PR reps will contact me. I also have a relationship with two Canadian publishing houses who send me their catalogues to browe each season.

    I have my email address posted on my profile so I can be contacted.

    Another way I get them is through Shelf Awareness, which is where this book came from. It is a daily newletter for the industry with many arcs offered. Here's the website: http://www.shelf-awareness.com/. Click on subscribe on the left-hand side and your all set!

    BTW, this definitely is a great book. Hope you enjoy it!

  5. Well written, Nicola. I like how you descibed the book - that's exactly what I meant when I wrote my review, but you put it better. It was so much more than a murder mystery or true crime novel. I really liked Victorian era setings in novels, so to read the real life was enlightening.

  6. This sounds very interesting. I think I'll add it to my TBR list. Thanks, Nicola.

  7. I hope I remember it when it comes out! It sounds excellent.

    Don't you love it when all your books on hold show up at once? Or when company comes or in the midst of some huge project.....

  8. From the first review I saw of this book I knew I wanted to read it. The more reviews I see the more my desire is confirmed. Thanks for another great review.

  9. I finished this book last week, and loved it too! It has to be my favorite read of the year so far! I’ve just started reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins - I’m interested to see the similarities!


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