Monday, January 05, 2009


Anyone who thinks that massive public interest and hysterical media coverage of crime is a modern phenomenon should read The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, or The Murder at Road Hill House, by Kate Summerscale. 
I learned a tremendous amount about Victorian England and the history of detective fiction. 
The book is constructed like a classical detective story, first we are told about the crime and the family at Road Hill House, then about the detective Jack Whicher, his investigation and the public reaction, then the solution is uncovered, and finally we learn what happened to the participants. Of course like in all good detective stories there is a twist in the tale and there is even a bit of dental pathology ['Hutchinsonian' incisors].  
The book is full of interesting quotes from newspapers and books of the time and the note that Sherlock Holmes 'unlike Jack Whicher Doyle's fantasy detective is an amateur and a gentleman and he is always right-'.

'I like a good murder that can't be found out,' says Mrs Hopkinson in Emily Eden's novel The Semi-Detached House [1859].
'That is of course very shocking, but I like to hear about it' .
' The Road Hill case took the national enthusiasm for baffling crimes to a new level. In The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins dubbed this mania 'a detective-fever'.

I think most crime fiction aficionados will enjoy this story of a true crime.


Blogger Barbara said...

That really does look fascinating! And a useful historical corrective when thinking about how we sensationalize crime these days.

Also would be a neato companion when reading 19th century fiction.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Barbara you are right and I will be keeping this one on my bookshelf.

7:16 AM  

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