Kate Summerscale, “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher”

Here’s the subtitle, too: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective.

Now here’s the final wonderful paragraph: “Perhaps this is the purpose of detective investigations, real and fictional — to transform sensation, horror and grief into a puzzle, and then to solve the puzzle, to make it go away. ‘The detective story,’ observed Raymond Chandler in 1949 ‘is a tragedy with a happy ending.’A storybook detective starts by confronting us with a murder and ends by absolving us of it. He clears us of guilt. He relieves us of uncertainty. He removes us from the presence of death.”

Great stuff! Especially considering that the book is an analysis of the murder of a baby in 1860, and the failure of Britain’s most heralded detective to solve the crime. (Actually he solved it, but couldn’t make a satisfactory case.) Summerscale weaves the details of the murder together with the context — the new discipline of detection, the sensation novels that followed, the popular press and its role in the proceedings, cultural unease at the notion of familial privacy being disrupted by the police. Inspector Whicher and this case, the Road Hill Murder, are clearly visible in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and Dickens was also paying close attention. This is both the Original Police Procedural and a knowledgeable commentary on the genre.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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