The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher was the second book my recently formed book club discussed. I thought it would inspire a great discussion on the history of detectives and police work, the psychology of murder and a fascinating peek into the world of a Victorian family and the Victorian press.
In June 1860 a small boy named Savile Kent is murdered in his home, Road Hill House, and found dumped in a privy. There is practically no physical evidence, not much cooperation from the boy’s household (composed of his parents, four older step-siblings, a young sister and several servants), and not much experience among the local police on how to investigate such a crime. Several weeks after the body is found Inspector Jonathan Whicher from Scotland Yard arrives to apply his considerable expertise to solving the murder. He quickly pins down a suspect while the newspapers criticize and ridicule his decisions and deductions. In addition, the case had become an obsession to the entire country (I was reminded of the Casey Anthony case recently here in America) with people from all walks of life, including Mr. Charles Dickens himself, contributing their two cents about who committed the murder and how it could really be solved.
Inspector Whicher was inspiration for the early detective novels of Wilkie Collins, especially The Moonstone, Dickens’ Bleak House and Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. The book club discussion didn’t touch much on this aspect of the novel, but several book clubbers did mention a desire to read Collins after reading this.
So, what did the book club think? I believe the majority of us very much enjoyed the book, though it was slow going in parts. There were a few members who didn’t manage to finish the book because it was so dense and detail laden. I had trouble about half-way through when the press accounts became overwhelming and repetitive – it felt like Summerscale was trying to pad out the years after the murder when not much was happening in the case. The end of the book was, however, riveting with its account of what happened to the major figures in the case long after the investigation was over.
The next book up for discussion in May is Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.
If you’d like to win copies of Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym and This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart enter here.