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.
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Kate Summerscale is the former literary editor for the Daily Telegraph and author of The Queen of Whale Cay, which won the Somerset Maugham Award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread biography award. Summerscale lives in London.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher:The Victorians made a romance of detection. In a newly uncertain world, a detective seemed to offer science, conviction, stories that could organise chaos. He turned brutal crimes—the vestiges of the beast in man—into intellectual puzzles. He was a secular substitute for a prophet or a priest. Yet the Victorians also made a fetish of privacy, and many felt that the investigation at Road Hill amounted to a violation of the middle-class home. Mr Whicher exposed the corruptions within the household: sexual transgression, emotional cruelty, scheming servants, wayward children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing. The scene he uncovered aroused fear (and excitement) at the thought of what might be hiding behind the closed doors of other respectable houses. His conclusions helped to create an era of voyeurism and suspicion, in which the detective was a shadowy figure, a demon as well as a demigod.
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