Review of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
Rating **** 1/2
I've always been intrigued with the subject of crime and punishment. I'm drawn to stories where a single poor decision can result in a person's loss of freedom, in some cases for decades. Usually, the crime and the person or persons behind the crime fade away never to be heard from again. The crime told in this story - the murder of a three-year old – occurred in 1860. So the author is able to cover the full spectrum of the story from beginning to the bitter end. The book For The Thrill of It by Simon Baatz accomplishes the same thing detailing a murder that occurred in 1924. Both stories make for interesting reading.
The one thing that sets this book apart is that it describes one of the first crimes that involved a detective, someone whose main responsibility is to analyze a crime scene and through interrogation and careful examination of the evidence solve the crime.
The murder of three-year-old Saville Kent was a sensational one for many different reasons. The crime was covered extensively by the press; there was a long list of potential suspects; and it became the basis for what became known as the detective novel. Throughout the book the author makes references to books that borrowed from the facts of this case. She also delves into terms such as clue and hunch and explains their origin and how they became part of the lexicon of the detective story.
There are as many theories about the person or persons responsible for the murder as there are suspects. The murder occurred in a house occupied by a large family along with a number of live in servants. There were also potential suspects outside the house. It is the job of Inspector Whicher to unravel the mystery.
Whicher is not called to the scene until days after the murder, making his job more difficult. Still he is able to conclude who he felt was responsible. But he doesn't have any solid evidence and his competency is called into question. His suspect is set free. All of the suspects suffer as a result of their being under suspicion. It is not until there is a confession that the case can be put to rest.
The author follows all of the main characters from the time of the crime to their eventual deaths. She also gives compelling new information that points to the possibility of an accomplice who was never charged.
This is a book I picked up totally at random browsing a local Borders. If you like CSI, you'll like this first episode.