Sunday, 4 July 2010

Mini- review of bestseller The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (2008)

Mr Whicher was a famous detective from the first stock of detectives ever produced, back in London in 1842. This non-fiction book mainly deals with a murder case he investigated, that of young Saville Kent, who was less than four, but it also covers most of his life with fascinating detail, especially the parts about his first successes.

The details bring it alive. For instance, he tricked a crook into handing back a stolen diamond shirt-pin in a bar, by knowing exactly how the crook worked with an accomplice. Another time he and two fellow officers got into a scuffle with some thieves, trying to recover some stolen jewels, and we read that Mr Whicher was set upon by a man with a red hot poker.

The details of the murder of Saville in his own house at Road Hill are shocking and by the end of this well-researched book much has been revealed about the need for morality and love in the household and in the family. Other fascinating themes and questions are raised as well as the whole country became obsessed with the case in the 1860s and were not satisfied when they could not see justice done. So the need for public justice is shown, but so is the foolhardiness of many who had little to do with the case writing to Scotland Yard with their own theories about what was done, and by whom. Even Charles Dickens had a theory!

Finally the question of madness interested a casual fan of classic Gothic/sensation literature like me. It really makes you wonder what madness is. Is it getting things in the wrong perspective, like a sociopath who does not see that a certain human life has value? Is it not having the proper feelings there? Is it doing something horrendous, out of character, or out of spite or anger (yet surely this definition isn't too far from things any of us have done). What is madness and what is just plain evil, after all?

The book, which perhaps could have been shorter, brings out all the ways this case became politically and socially important, and finally the sentence is passed and we know who did the terrible deed. Author Kate Summerscale reminds us in the last few pages that we must not allow the tragic loss of a human life to become lost in the intellectual game of finding out "whodunit", which is a brilliant sentiment to end on, and the whole thing is an illuminating and really interesting read.

1 comment:

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