“The ordinary was made sinister.” Any Serial obsessed person can tell you that line pretty much sums up the whole podcast. It also accurately sums up the murder of three year old Saville Kent in England in 1860 at Road House. The residents and staff of Road House all had alibis that, if you believed them innocent, appeared innocuous. If you perceived them guilty, their testimony seems suspect. For example, when the governess awoke at 5am and noticed the three year old missing from bed, she did not alert anyone, claiming she thought the boy had gone to sleep with his mother. Did she not alert the household because she was having an illicit affair with the man of the house and was interrupted by the child, therefore the boy needed to be silenced? Or was it because it was 5 fucking am, sometimes the mother took the boy to her room and when you hear hoofbeats, you shouldn’t immediately assume zebras?
Mixed in with the details of the murder and subsequent investigation, Summerscale expands on the history of detective work and its impact on pop culture. In Victorian England, the detective was the hip new thing and the first detectives of the time were treated as celebrities. Titular Mr. Whicher was the Mick Jagger of the first detective squad at Scotland Yard. Ghosts of Whicher now flit through the ages in mystery novels; when the mystery genre was born, Whicher was the archetype detective. At times, Summerscale can get away from herself and the murder case by going off on these tangents about Victorian England and the role of the detective, but I wasn’t bothered by these digressions. It’s a bit like what I imagine dinner with Sophia Petrillo would be like, not always completely topical, but full of interesting tidbits.
Just as an aside, going off on my own little mini-tangent: I would’ve given this book five stars. However, Summerscale reiterates a common misconception about Darwin’s theory of evolution (see what I mean about her tangents? It would take me a whole paragraph to explain how the murder invetigation turned into a discussion about evolution.) and it really stuck in my craw. Everything else in the book appears to be impeccable researched, so that bit of misinformation stood out and then made me question if all the research in the book was as sound as it appeared.