Book: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
In 1860, just as the first professional detectives were emerging in London, a scandalous murder takes place in the home of Samuel Kent. His young son, nearly 4 years old, is found murdered, in the privy outside his estate. Very quickly it is determined that only a member of the household could have done the dastardly deed. Enter Inspector Whicher, respected police detective, to try and solve the murder mystery.
A true story, this non-fictional account reads like a fictional murder mystery in the first 1/3 or so. Could it be the nanny? The jealous sister? The displaced brother? The adulterous father? The laundress? The gardener? Detective Whicher soon forms his theory and sets about proving it.
However, in the 1860s, neither the defendants nor the detective are allowed to testify in court, and so the case does not go well for Mr. Whicher. However, the case is brought back to light many years later and with it, the shocking conclusion.
I really enjoyed the first part of this book, and my enjoyment was greatly enhanced by the discovery that by some happy accident this book overlaps with Drood, which I am listening to on audio. Many of the same people are mentioned, and both books are set around the same time period. Inspector Field plays a role in both books, as does Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and London itself in those hot, sewage-scented days. It was definitely fun to be reading them both at the same time, as the one is non-fiction and the other is based on true events.
However, I lost interest about halfway through this book and skimmed to the end. I’m not sure why. Part of it was the writing style — a bit stilted, if you ask me. I enjoyed it, but… it got a little dry.
Still, the explorations of the Victorian emphasis on personal privacy and the sanctity of the home were interesting, and really helped me to understand Drood better, as well. Both books played off each other in a really fascinating way, filling in certain blanks and rounding out mysteries. I was interested in the Victorian class structure as well — the fact that Mr. Whicher was accusing a family member, and a young woman, at that, was almost unheard-of. Searching the family home was seen as unseemly and overly intrusive. The Victorian home was a man’s castle, his ultimate retreat, and privacy was valued over almost all else.
So, even though I sort of lost interest mid-way through, I still really enjoyed the first part and got a lot out of the book, especially when reading in conjunction with Drood, which I am LOVING (and, at the rate I’m going, will be listening to for FOREVER: 24 discs of audio! Sheesh!).