As you know, I like to read mysteries. I mostly read mysteries, but I occasionally delve into true-crime stories. I recently finished the book, “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective” by Kate Summerscale. It is a true-crime detective story and much more.
I have to admit I read the book after watching the BBC miniseries “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.” These four movies, starring Paddy Considine, were wonderful. They are intelligent, beautifully staged, convoluted mysteries solved by Detective Inspector Whicher. After Tom and I watched all four (available with Amazon Prime), we agreed that we wished there were more. In the series, Detective Inspector Whicher is portrayed as a humble man of great acuity who is willing to suffer insults and second-guessing in order to uncover the truth. The series is excellent.
“The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: The Murder at Road Hill House” is the first movie in the series. It is based on the true story of the Road Hill House murder of Saville Kent in 1860. This first movie is also based on the Kate Summerscale book.
Saville was three at the time of his murder. At first everyone insisted an outsider must have done it. Eventually, however, Detective Inspector Whicher discovered that Constance Kent, Saville’s 16 year old half-sister, committed the murder. Because of lack of evidence, evidence concealed by the bungling of the local police officers, and an unwillingness by the public to believe that so horrible a crime could be committed by a young woman, Constance was not tried for the crime. Detective Inspector Whicher was discredited and retired in shame. Five years later, Constance Kent confessed that she killed her brother and was sentenced to twenty years in prison.
When I moved from the movies to the book, I discovered that Detective Inspector Whicher was a famous person in Victorian England. He was one of the first eight detectives at Scotland Yard. He solved many famous crimes. Wikipedia has the short version, Kate Summerscale the long version.
Kate Summerscale’s book, “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher,” includes details left out of the movie. Summerscale also shows how Detective Inspector Whicher became the prototype for the new genre of detective fiction. Her book is about the Road Hill Murder, but it is also a history of the science of detection. She includes details about other crimes solved by Whicher and other detectives at the time. Summerscale also follows the Kent family and Whicher beyond Constance’s confession.
There is an amazing amount of detail in Summerscale’s book. It is meticulously researched. There are so many details that I sometimes skipped paragraphs just to feel that I had some continuity in the story. But I would rather have details that I choose to skip than a lack of details. I found the development of the science of detection fascinating.
The movies are great. The book is good. The only problem: Jack Whicher remains a man of mystery. He is known for the cases he solved but he kept his own secrets and lived a very private life. If you like mysteries, take some time to explore “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.”