“I did not realize when I put this on my book wish list that this was a work of nonfiction. The Mr Whicher of the title is one Detective Jonathan Whicher, who in 1860, was asked by local Wiltshire police to investigate the very heinous murder of a little boy, aged 4. It seems that when his nursemaid woke up in the morning little Francis Savile Kent was not in his bed; mistakenly thinking he was collected during the night by his mother, she inquired about him once the household was awake. The mother was surprised to learn he was not in the bed, and a search was made. They found the little boy dumped in the privy, throat cut. Whicher appeared somewhat late on the scene, and by then, the accusations were rampant. and directed at different people in the household. Whicher, as a detective, had to intrude upon this upper middle-class Victorian household as part of his investigation, because in his opinion, the murder was done by someone who lived at the house, namely young Savile's stepsister, Constance Emily Kent. In those days, detection was not a lofty profession, and to even consider trying to get at the secrets of a household was to invite public scorn, and due to his inability to produce promised evidence, Whicher found himself the object of public ridicule. Now if the story had stopped there, it still would have been quite good, but it does not. Summerscale has done a tremendous amount of research into not only this case, but its aftermath in terms of Victorian society, detective fiction, policing at the time, and the sensitivities of the Victorian psyche in matters public.
Summerscale has done her homework -- after finishing the book, I went through the notes and discovered that she had used a wealth of primary and secondary sources to put together this work. I can appreciate all of the research that went into the book, having done a post-graduate degree in history myself. Yet it is not just a history or a social commentary; the book flows very well, making it very readable and accessible. Personally, I love this period of time, and I have this thing about true crime of the Victorian era, especially when it comes to stories about murderesses.
I would definitely recommend this one to anyone who is interested in the Victorian period, in the beginnings of the detective in real life and in fiction, in true crime through time, or to anyone who just wants to read an incredibly interesting and absorbing story. I took a lot of titles down from her sources for further reading.
Absolutely splendid -- and as it turns out, it wasn't just another detective story, but a story about a detective and the crime that did him in. Highly recommended.”