The Suspicions of Mr Whicher


In 1860, a brutal murder in a fancy country house in the UK produced a scenario that was to serve as a template for many mystery novels in the future. A Mr Whicher, among the first Scotland Yard detectives to act in a Sherlock Holmes-type capacity, is sent to the home of the Kent family to make sense of the case.
What's interesting about the real-life story is not so much its similarities with the classic whodunnits made after it, but the differences: the victim is a young child, the detective universally disliked and ultimately unsuccessful, and external circumstances like culture, politics, and the press play a much bigger part in the proceedings than they ever do in an Agatha Christie novel.
As such, the book is a failure as a mystery novel, but a success as a social history of Victorian England and the place crime took in it. The author is, however, long-winded, taking time to explain such niceties as the etymology of the word 'to detect', and generally repeating herself again and again. It could have been shorter and better.

Posted by zeptimius at 01:45 AM, September 03, 2008