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Thursday, 18 August 2011

Gruesome murder mystery for DI Whicher

I was rivetted by the dramatised version, starring Paddy Considine and Peter Capaldi and decided to try Kate Summerscale's novel of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House. Both were fascinating and, while the amount of research carried out by the author added to the intrigue of the book and gave an insight into social conditions and sleuthing in the mid 19th century, the ITV dramatisation concentrated on the story itself and graphically brought it and the characters to life in the way a book couldn't, illustrating the old chestnut 'show, don't tell' at its best.

Little Saville Kent, aged 3 is murdered in his sleep during the night on 30 June, 1860 at Road Hill House in Wiltshire where he lives with his parents, Samuel Kent, a sub-inspector of factories and his second wife, Mary. Samuel and Mary live in the elegant mansion with the four children of Samuel's first marriage and three from their own. Mary, originally Mary Pratt, used to be the nursemaid when Samuel was married to Mary Ann, his first wife and it is conjectured that 16-year-old Constance, one of the original brood, is the culprit to this foul deed, aided and abetted by her younger brother, William.

As the door to the outside world was locked on the inside, it is assumed that someone in the house has killed Saville and it takes a while before they locate his body. The police seem to be making a hash of things and Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher is called in for his expert opinion. Whicher points a finger at Constance, whose mother is alleged to have had mental health issues, on the grounds of jealousy and retribution and the poor man virtually wrecks his career on the strength of his convictions. As this is based on a true story, poor little Saville suffers a tragic fate as indeed does Whicher. A pall of sadness hangs over the narrative throughout and I was glad to see Whicher exonerated and reviving his good work by the end.

Kate's book was published in 2008 by Bloomsbury. She won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction for it. A special edition is available with an eight-page gatefold section of contemporary documents from the investigation. It includes letters, police reports and Mr Whicher's case notes.

You can learn more about The Suspicions of Mr Whichever on a special website:


LindyLouMac in Italy said...

I found this an interesting read especially as it is thought that this case was the one that helped mould the format of the detective fiction novel. In fact it is thought that Sergeant Cuff from the novel ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins was based on Detective Inspector Whicher himself. I had no idea they had made a TV drama!

Diane Paul said...

Hi LindyLou, you're right. I always enjoyed Collins's books, so evocative of the era. Shame you missed the dramatisation.