The Suspicions of Mr Whicher : or the Murder at Road Hill House, Paperback Book

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher : or the Murder at Road Hill House Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (27 ratings)


It is a summer's night in 1860. In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet.

Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep.

At some point after midnight a dog barks. The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery: an unimaginably gruesome murder has taken place in their home.

The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is surely still among them.

Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, the most celebrated detective of his day, reaches Road Hill House a fortnight later.

He faces an unenviable task: to solve a case in which the grieving family are the suspects.

The murder provokes national hysteria. The thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes - scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing - arouses fear and a kind of excitement.

But when Whicher reaches his shocking conclusion there is uproar and bewilderment. A true story that inspired a generation of writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this has all the hallmarks of the classic murder mystery - a body; a detective; a country house steeped in secrets.

In The Suspicions of Mr Whicher Kate Summerscale untangles the facts behind this notorious case, bringing it back to vivid, extraordinary life.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400 pages, Illustrations (some col.), maps, ports.
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: True crime
  • ISBN: 9780747596486

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Showing 1 - 5 of 27 reviews.

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I liked this book a lot, but I did think it could have been better. There were some parts that seemed more like prurient gossip than analysis of historical documents (which I think is an issue of style and tone rather than content) and some parts that were quite repetitive. The absence of proper footnoting drove me insane. There are pages and pages of notes in the back, with source references and comment, but nothing in the text to refer you to them. Either you skip back and forth to see whether there's a footnote for that paragraph, or you ignore them completely. Presumably this was done to give an informal tone instead of making it seem academic, but it irritated me no end.Having got the criticisms out of the way, let me say that I did enjoy reading this book. I enjoyed it a lot. I found the social and literary history absolutely fascinating. The history of the police force was very well covered, and the account of the change in public perception of the detectives was fascinating. It was also interesting to see the inner workings of the Victorian police, and to read about the detective as a person rather than just as a detective.I very much enjoyed seeing how the development of detective fiction related to events then current in the news, and liked the way this analysis was woven into the narrative; The Woman in White and The Moonstone are both on my To Read pile, and I'm very keen now to read them and to see how the attitudes and events surrounding this case come out in them.The book is well researched, well constructed, and written in an engaging style.

Review by

I'm glad I didn't pay for this. It was the 3rd of three for two, and Blurbed by Ian Rankin and le Carre, (and Sarah Waters - who?) as well as being a Richard and Judy hot pick. It's neither 'a classic', 'totally rivetting' (rather the reverse) or even 'terrific'. It should really be titled, the life and times of Samuel Kent and his extended family, as guessed by the author with extensive digressions, because very little indeed is in any way connected to the detective Mr Whicher. Most, I would guess a good 9/10ths is historical speculation from the author, sometimes using original sources, but as these are never linked in the text it is hard to be sure. There are extensive notes in the back if you manage to maintain any interest to reach that far. The rest are various anecdotes that the author came across in her research about the times and places and couldn't resist including in the text even though they had no relevance to the case, and served merely to pad the page count. So what is it supposed to be about? In 1860 Mr Samuel Kent's yonugest son is found brutally murdered in the privy. The local forces can make nothing of it so a detective from London is sent for - Mr Whicher. He makes some conclusions, but fails to provide enough evidence and the case collapses. Eventually a suspect confesses, and is jailed for 20 years. All the rest is padding: The history of the british police force prior to the appointment of Mr Whicher; Mr Whicher's personal past; the life and times of the family; their various fortunes; other theories that people emminently not qualified to propose, sent to the newspapers; random commentry on the nature of society and how 'the people' might have thought about the police; and other dull guessworks. Eventually some form of conclusion is sort of reached -not the speculation of Mr Whicher but further unsupported guesswork by the author. Oh and lots of excerpts from contemporary <I>fiction</I> apparently illustrating some point of the detective's or public's thoughts. Quite how fiction is supposed to be a reliable historical record I'm not sure. The excerpts are also dull - mostly irrelevant, and where potentially relevant, isolated from all context so you can't tell. It does have a few plus points - it's basically well written with only a few obvious grammatical errors of case and tense. Some of the history and the more supported statements of public frame of mind are occasionally interesting. The case itself is described in sufficient detail to make it vaguely compelling in the style of Sherlock Holmes to deduce who ultimately turns out to be responsible. Basically dull. Not recommended, if you prefer historical insight read the newspapers of the time, or if you prefer a crime story read Sherlock Holmes (set 40 years later) or Murders in the Rue Morgue by Poe......................................................................................................................Other half writes: I finished this book today, Pancake Day 2009. I also thought it was dull, but in places rather than throughout. I didn't think "9/10ths is historical speculation" with references and sources quoted most times. Most grammos, I believe, are an indication of grammar at the time, or are quotes from ill-educated folk from the time. I quite liked the book, but it seemed to me to be written as an essay - probably the longest essay I've ever read! I keep thinking about it, and coming up with questions, so it has entered my subconscious somewhere rather than being dismissed quickly from my mind. Not the most interesting, but not the most dull writing either. I have never read a book like it before. Definitely different.

Review by

A true Victorian whodunnit in which a body is found in a country house. Jack Whicher is sent to investigate what becomes a lengthy case that inspires the birth of modern crime writing. The book places the murder in to the context of the social history of the time. Hard going at times but a fascinating read.

Review by

A true crime story that reads like historic fiction was always going to win me over; yet as a veteran crime-fiction reader, I wasn't expecting to find the actual subject matter so fascinating.Jack Whicher was one of the eight original Scotland Yard detectives, and this was the case that almost brought their celebrated status to a halt. The crime was horrifying in its stark, nonsensical brutality, littered with clues and false leads, took place in in a large house within a family unit divided by a past marriage, and came with more theories per individual suspect than an Agatha Christie novel. Despite the hard research that Summerscale obviously poured into this book, there is an unmistakable element of romance to the retelling - the crime that spawned the Victorian murder mystery genre is replete with key storytelling elements already in place, with one crucial improvement; the ending is satisfyingly oblique.

Review by

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House is the story of a true murder mystery, which formed the basis of inspiration for many of the great detective stories of the late 19th century. It has all the elements of the great whodunnit: intrigue, secret relationships and a small cast of characters.In 1860, the Kent family, resident at Road Hill House, consisted of Mr. Kent, his second wife Mrs. Kent (formerly a governess to the family), his chilren from his first marriage and a group of younger children from his second marriage. As may be expected, there were typical lines of separation and favouritism between the two groups of children.One morning the governess awoke to find Saville, one of the younger children, missing from his bed in the nursery. Thinking that he was in bed with his mother, she returned to sleep. It wasn't until the household fully awoke that they realised Saville was no longer in the house. Police were called and neighbours assisted in searching the grounds. Unfortunately, the body of young Saville was found in an outdoor toilet.The local police were faced with a conundrum, the house had been locked securely from the inside, which meant that the murderer was most likely a member of the household. The pressure from the public and media on the Kent household challenged the strong Victorian feelings about the home (everyman's home is his castle), and the assignment of a police detective to this case furthered added to the interest.Summerscale has compiled and researched a wealth of knowledge for this book, but I felt a lack of cohesion throughout. Despite the meticulous detail, and the fascinating insights into the mentality of the era, the story never really pulls together. Instead it remains cut and dried. It offers a fascinating view of the Victorian era, as well as the evolution of the crime novel and the modern police detective. Recommended for fans of the era.

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