Kate Summerscale – Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

29Jan09

A book with so much potential, and a book I struggled to finish… I just finished it because I hate leaving books half-read.

The author (Kate Summerscale) writes about the non-fictional Road Hill House Murder, also known as the case of Constance Kent. A young boy is murdered by one of thirteen people in a house, and a detective from Scotland Yard (Mr. Whicher) is assigned to the case, six weeks after the actual murder took place. The local police are an incompetent lot, who try to undermine the value of Mr. Whicher, which the latter attributes to jealousy.

A proper whodunnit, this book could honestly have been one of the most gripping mystery books around. However, the author has focused on Victorian social values, details into the emerging field of detectives and the Scotland Yard, and she freely discusses other cases and murders of the time. This obviously causes a break in the story, and draws the reader’s attention away from the main plot: who killed Saville Kent? The point is, that’s what this book is about! Why try to meander around the subject, and have lots of filler-kind of writing? It’s almost like a student dissertation, where she’s struggling to make the word count.

I concur, a lot of research has gone into it. However, this book’s touted as ‘The Murder At Road Hill House’ and not, ‘Mystery Solving in the 19th Century’. It’s factual, with no imagination whatsoever. Just a little hyperbolism always helps a mystery book – but this is banal, dull, and well, I regret ever buying it, let alone reading it. Ironically, it’s probably one of the most expensive paperbacks out there – I actually voluntarily paid thirteen quid for it, and spent over five hours reading it. Thank god time’s not money, for if it were, I’d be broke by now. Five hours of my life I’m not getting back (and that’s after skim-reading the last 200 pages)!!

Overall, a 3 on 10, and the 3’s only for all the research effort put in.

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One Response to “Kate Summerscale – Suspicions of Mr. Whicher”

  1. It’s really interesting to read a review that disagrees with mine! I often complain that non-fiction (or even fiction!) books are dry, boring and read like a reference book, but I didn’t find it to be the case with this one. I guess it was the fact that there was a murder mystery in the book too. I felt like I was the detective too, as I was given the facts in the order Mr. Whicher got them, so I was trying to work out who did it before he did!

    PS. I’m not sure why your copy was so expensive – I bought mine as a 2 for £7 deal in Tesco!


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