The dramatic story of the real-life murder that inspired the birth of modern detective fiction.
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 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, as Kate Summerscale relates in her scintillating new book, 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 Sgt. 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 Kate Summerscale has fashioned a brilliant, multilayered narrative that is as cleverly constructed as it is beautifully written.
Intricate and detailed, this book offers not only an insight into the case of the murder of Saville Kent, but also an analysis of Victorian society, the development of modern policing methods, the history of the detective novel. It's all fascinating stuff, thoroughly researched and painstakingly recorded.
And yet ... during my reading I had a feeling that the horror of the crime had been forgotten, lost in all the analysis and detail. Summerscale does in fact acknowledge at the end of the book that she had forgotten Saville. Nor is there much information on the emotional impact of his loss on his family. Admittedly, there may have been less evidence for the book on this subject, but I really felt it was an omission.
This true story tells of the brutal murder of three year old Saville Kent in the 1860's.To add weight to the story, Kate Summerscale has used a wealth of research material taken from local newspapers of the time, and authors such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. The book gives a detailed snapshot of Victorian attitudes, of class divisions and the birth of the modern detective and policing methods.
However, I felt that all of the additional research material interfered with the telling of the story which was lost amidst the 'padding'.