Thursday, March 07, 2013

review: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

True life can often be much more gripping than fiction and it proves it again here as the case of a murdered child unravels with the reader being pulled into all of the grisly details of an 1860 murder case.

At the heart of the story, along with the details of the death of Francis Kent, is the role played by one of the most celebrated detectives of the time Jack Whicher.

He arrives to find that after having disappeared the three year old has been murdered in a fairly sadistic way. The full picture of how the family live in their home in the village of Rode in Wiltshire is gone into in enough detail to make the reader feel like they are mastering a Cluedo game with the layout of the house and suspects.

This section of the book grabs you and takes you into a world of intrigue and has touches of the Conan Doyle about it. But legal proceedings and then the struggle to determine who was guilty takes over.

The initial focus falls on the nursemaid but she is released and the detective believes that she was not the killer and someone else in the family was the murderer. The victim's sister Constance is a strong contender but there were plenty of other factors going on that would muddy the waters, with the father having an affair just being one of them.

Once the case has cooled and the family move to Wrexham the story becomes slightly less compelling and in the end this becomes a tale of confessions, perhaps false to protect others, and a sense of a crime that was largely unresolved. Whicher comes through the case fairly badly given that his suspicions are often not shared by many others and you sense the greatest injustice is perhaps not for Francis bit for him.

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