Do you enjoy Victorian literature? Fascinated by true crime? Then you could find a lot to enjoy in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which deals with a murder that rocked Victorian England – the death of the three year old darling of a middle class family, stolen from his crib in a locked house and found dumped in a privy with his throat cut.
Calling upon the Government to send one of its newly created detectives to solve the case (and receiving the titular Mr Whicher, one of their best), at first the public would be as fascinated by the detectives and the new ‘science’ of investigation as by the case and a wave of new novels starring fictional versions of these men fed the public’s mania. However, as the case progressed the public soon found themselves disgusted by the investigation in which everyone in the family was suspect (instead of just the help, which would have better suited middle class sensibilities) and the secrets of their home life laid bare for all to see in the newspapers. The disgust wasn’t confined to the brutality of the murder, or the idea that someone just like them had committed it, but was propelled by the investigation riding roughshod over the notion that an Englishman’s home was his castle, a bastion of middle class privacy that working class detectives had no right to intrude upon, and would leave Mr Whicher’s reputation in tatters.
It was fascinating to see how what we take for granted in modern murder investigations was born, with hunches and interviews providing much of the ‘evidence’, and how Victorian manners could waylay cases (such as the local police not wishing to even look upon a ladies shift that could provide vital evidence, as such a thing was unseemly). The book laid out the facts of the case well, allowing the reader to follow the ‘clues’ in much the same was as Mr Whicher had, as well as providing fascinating commentary on how public opinion could affect both the outcome of case and his career.
Informative and insightful, this book has also inspired me into a little mania of my own which has led to the addition roughly 10,000 more books to my wishlist. More of Summerscale’s books feature on the list, and pay day can’t come soon enough.