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Hazel

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

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This is a tricksy book to fit into an appropriate forum; part true-crime, part socio-historical drama, part literary discussion...so I am sticking it in here unless someone can come up with a better forum.

 

In 1860, at the country pile of the Kent family, young Saville Kent just 3 years old, was taken from his room during the night and brutally murdered. Jonathan Whicher, a hot-shot policeman, star of the newly-formed detective squad in London, was called to investigate.

 

Everyone in the village, rightly appalled by this crime, had an opinion. It was Samuel Kent, the over-bearing father, that committed the crime because Saville wandered into the bedroom whilst his father was having extra-curricular activities with the nanny; it was the nanny herself who killed the toddler because he found her up to no good in the household or with his father; it was one of the children from Samuel's first marriage jeaous of the newer siblings or angry with their step-mother who shunned them after the birth of her own children.

 

Whicher, after studying the evidence, most of which hung on a missing night-gown, proposed a theory and a suspect. No one agreed with him and after a lengthy period of investigation he was ostracized and humiliated.

 

This case proved to be a definitive true-crime case in many ways. The confusion, the story, the use of the new 'detective', crime detection and methodology, public gossip and suspicion...made this one of the first cases to be discussed by everyone. Public fervour for the events never died and interest in the 'detective' and his methodology gripped the nation. People were putting themselves in Whicher's place, becoming amateur detective and submitting myraid theories as to the perpetrator. The case inspired detective fiction as we know it now. From Poe's first detective to Collin's fiction, to Dickens's and so on.

 

Summerscale does a grand job of interweaving details of the crime, of the family, of the village with references and evidence in the detective fiction of the 19thC and onwards. She touches deftly upon the socio-historical climate of the 1860s, all in such a way to make for a gripping and hugely informative book. If you are particularly interested in 19th C literature then this book will interest you greatly. But it is as gripping as a true-crime read.

 

Highly recommended.

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Summerscale does a grand job of interweaving details of the crime, of the family, of the village with references and evidence in the detective fiction of the 19thC and onwards. She touches deftly upon the socio-historical climate of the 1860s, all in such a way to make for a gripping and hugely informative book. If you are particularly interested in 19th C literature then this book will interest you greatly. But it is as gripping as a true-crime read.

 

Highly recommended.

 

I'm sorry to say that, for the purposes of getting a good ranting discussion going, that I totally agree with Hazel (another excellent review). As I commented in the 'currently reading' slot, I couldn't put this book down and nor could my husband. I think Barblue was reading this too and wonder if she agrees.

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Chuntzy and Barblue (if you have finished!) -

 

 

How did you feel about Constance? Did you feel sorry for her or did you feel that she got less than she deserved? And what about William - did you think he was an accomplice?

 

And the shadow of Samuel Kent, that merely hovered on the sidelines - do you think he knew what his child(ren) did?

 

 

I really felt for Whicher really - he really got this case in his grasp only to be ridiculed for his theories.

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I am in the process of reading this now. Will report back in due course. Am intrigued by the layout at the beginning though. All that information to digest even before we get to the nitty-gritty!

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I don't think I can improve on your review Hazel - it says exactly what I wanted to say once I'd read it.

 

The only thing I would add is how interesting the historical facts are. I was particularly entranced with information on weather states on any given date, the numbers of children and servants in any given household and how many jurors there were at the trial. So much detail in this book and all totally fascinating.

 

Constance, William and Samuel:

My reading is that both Constance and William were guilty of the crime. I think nowadays we might say both these people were emotionally abused as children. I felt they certainly had distorted images of themselves and their world. I can't decide whether that should have been used as a mitigating circumstance. Having committed such a terrible crime, and finally admitting to it, then it was right that Constance served the full sentence. What astounds me is William not doing so. What is even more astounding is that he let his sister pay such a price.

 

I had no sympathy with Samuel at all. His sexual appetites, I think, led to the circumstances in which the children were raised (including the suggested sexual disease). It was tragic that his son Saville was murdered. It was also tragic that he probably guessed immediately or very soon afterwards that Constances and/or William had committed the crime. But I think he got off very lightly in the end.

Like you Chuntzy, I could not put this book down. Not only was I entranced by the basic crime, but also the historical data which was woven into a patchwork that enthralled and entertained in Summerscale's narrative.

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The only thing I would add is how interesting the historical facts are. I was particularly entranced with information on weather states on any given date, the numbers of children and servants in any given household and how many jurors there were at the trial. So much detail in this book and all totally fascinating.

That was part of the joy for me as well, as a fan of 19th C lit, I really enjoyed all the details of 19th C life, and how attitudes to crime hadn't really changed all that much. It was surprisingly contemporary.

 

 

My reading is that both Constance and William were guilty of the crime. I think nowadays we might say both these people were emotionally abused as children.
I agree - I think both were guilty and both suffered neglect at the hands of their father who seemed to have forgotten his first family when the second came along.

 

I had no sympathy with Samuel at all.
I don't know. I felt a little sorry for him - I think he was quite a tragic figure by the end. His arrogance and treatment of his first family, tore apart his life and family as he knew it and he had financial and job problems in his dotage. I think the murder of Saville caused him to realise where he had gone so terribly wrong and he seemed to spend the rest of his life paying for it.

 

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I'm not surprised ... but I'm very pleased. A great piece of work all round as far as I'm concerned. :clap:

 

 

Very pleased too! Well deserved.

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I'm finding this very dry and difficult to get into. It's reading like a bad history teacher's narrative on a warm Friday afternoon. There are too many characters that are introduced too soon, and a vain attempt to turn a social history book into a murder-mystery (which it still is as I don't yet know who dunnit.) Or vice versa. The book seems to be trying to fit into all sorts of boxes instead of just telling the story. I'm really missing a floor plan too. There are lots of photos of the outside of house but no sense of the interior layout.

 

I'll keep with it for a few more chapters but unless it perks up my boredom might well consign this to the "sometime maybe in the future/never to be finished pile."

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The book seems to be trying to fit into all sorts of boxes instead of just telling the story.
That was the strength of the book, in my opinion, that it accomplished so much, and covered so many genres into one fascinating book.

 

I'm really missing a floor plan too. There are lots of photos of the outside of house but no sense of the interior layout.

Have a look at the inside cover. There are very detailed floor plans in my hardback.

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That was the strength of the book, in my opinion, that it accomplished so much, and covered so many genres into one fascinating book.

But in such a stodgy fashion, I think.

 

Have a look at the inside cover. There are very detailed floor plans in my hardback.

I have the paperback (a snip at the equivalent of UKP12.99) and now I do see that there are floor-plans later in the book. I would have thought they would have been better at the start of the book, but they are there, albeit only referenced in the 'list of illustration's at the end of the book.

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But in such a stodgy fashion, I think.
That's unfortunate, but we'll have to agree to disagree on that one, I didn't find it stodgy at all - gripping and deftly handled.

 

 

I have the paperback (a snip at the equivalent of UKP12.99) and now I do see that there are floor-plans later in the book. I would have thought they would have been better at the start of the book, but they are there, albeit only referenced in the 'list of illustration's at the end of the book.
Ah, of course having them at the beginning is far more sensible and the hardback has them on the inside cover. I wonder why the change.

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If they'd been in with the photographs in the two sections of such I could have understood, but to slot them in with the text and have them only listed in the back seems a little strange.

 

Hopefully, the story will pick up when Mr Whicher arrives upon the scene. I've had quite enough of maids closing curtains and boot-boys blacking boots and parents closing windows and gardeners potting hybrids.

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I've had quite enough of maids closing curtains and boot-boys blacking boots and parents closing windows and gardeners potting hybrids.
:D I suppose I'll need to stop picturing you as a 19th C country gent then Adrian.

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I've just finished this and I felt that the strength of the book is the way in which is portrayed the social history of the time in the context of the case. I wished I could remember more of the details of the Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Henry James novels that I've read, it would have added even more.

 

The characters of the book have been discussed already.

 

I agree that William was in on the game somehow, but then, maybe that's what we've all been lead to believe. Samuel seemed very weak and detatched, but the Victorians aren't famed for the touchy feeling child-rearing.

 

I wasn't sure that Mr Whicher was such a hero. He went to Road (aside: Rode is just down the *cough* road from me and it annoyed me that the spelling is now different!) for a couple of weeks, made a guess at whodunnit based entirely on his hunches and had Constance not confessed, he would never have proved it. The title pretty much tells us that Whicher's suspicions are the correct ones, which is just as well as the list of illustrations includes one called 'Constance's Confession'!

 

I didn't find the text dry or difficult to follow and I had the paperback. The floorplan appeared just as I felt I needed it.

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