Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale (36/81)

Category: Non-Fiction

In the UK, it was hard to avoid the hype surrounding this book, and as a fan of detective fiction, I felt compelled to read it. It promised to be a great thriller, with the country house murder story that shaped the early detective novel. The praise heaped upon it by illustrious writers was immense. I should have realised that it won’t live up to the expectations.

The story is that of a murder of a child in Victorian times that caused scandal at the time and was never satisfactorily resolved. At first I was intrigued by the murder and found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it, but then the solution was found quite early and I was wondering if there was going to be a twist which never really came. The book had been meticulously researched, and there was so much detail in there about absolutely everything. The parts about Victorian society, in particular about attitudes towards women and mental health issues, were fascinating, and the parts about the influence of the case on authors were also interesting, but overall much of the information was superfluous and it could have benefited from more ruthless editing.

It was a decent enough book, but it never reached the heights which the reviews promised, and a cynical part of me wondered how much the author’s previous position as the editor of a literary review helped gain those praises.

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