The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
Kate Summerscale read about a true murder in Victorian England of three-year-old Saville Kent, son in a prominent family. The father and servants had locked the house for the night, closing and locking all windows and the garden gate. Still, Saville’s body is found at the bottom of the privy with his throat cut. The crime is disturbing, horrifying, and perplexing. The murder occurs at the time when only eight detectives were employed in the whole of England. Police detecting was in its early stages. The best inspector, Jonathan Whicher, goes to investigate the murder. Summerscale writes about the case, giving all the historical background. The book is nonfiction, but it crosses that barrier between fiction and nonfiction to give an account of the murder and the investigation and in engaging the readers.
Summerscale remains true to the facts of the case and gives readers a vivid account of all the people involved, including and most importantly, Inspector Whicher. Her subtitle is “A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective.” In fact, the book reads like a history of the early detective development in England, complete with endnotes.
Inspector Whicher and others are convinced that someone in the household has murdered Saville, but proving who committed the murder is difficult. The family consists of Samuel Kent and his second wife Mary. Samuel Kent was a widower when he married Mary, his children’s governess. He had four living children from his first marriage and three more children with his second wife Mary. Mary was also eight months pregnant with her fourth child when her son Saville was murdered.
Theories about the murder abound, some of them absurd and others gossip. For those interested in history, Summerscale has written a book as absorbing as a novel, but true to the facts of a real and gruesome murder of a three-year-old boy.
Summerscale has a double-first at Oxford University and an MA in journalism from Stanford University. In addition to The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, she has written The Queen of Whale Cay, Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace, and The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer. She has also been a journalist for The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and The Sunday Telegraph.