Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale

Product DetailsThe true story set in 1860 Victorian England of murder committed in a country house which at the time was talked about all over the world. Kate Summerscale has written a well researched account on how this brutal child murder appears to have fuelled the birth of detective fiction.

One night in the summer of 1860 in a large Georgian village house in Road, Wiltshire a horrendous murder is committed. The family wake the next morning to discover that one of the children is missing from his bed, worse follows the child is found dead on the property and all evidence seems to point to the fact that the murderer lived on the premises.
The murder creates a lot of national public interest and within a few weeks London detectives have been called in to help solve this dreadful case, where the grieving household members are seen as the main suspects.
The man summoned to Wiltshire to solve the crime is a member of London’ s first  official investigation squad at Scotland Yard was Jack Whicher. He was already a well known public figure but the case of Saville Kent’s murder seemed to be the beginning of the end for his career.  With the case still unresolved by the beginning of 1861 enquiries had began to peter out and for several months Whicher withdrew from the public eye, only working on cases that were unlikely to attract the newspapers and therefore the publics attention.  It was claimed at that time by a work colleague of Whicher’s that the Road Hill murder had undone ‘the best man the Detective department ever possessed’. In fact by March 1864 at the age of 49 he was pensioned off from the Metropolitan Police for reasons of ill health. His discharge papers quoted the reason as ‘congestion of the brain’ which in modern days we would probably refer to as stress, undoubtedly caused by the unsolved puzzle of the Road Hill Murder. In fact this unsolved crime probably worried him for the rest of his life as less when he died in 1881 it was from a perforated stomach ulcer. For a man that was once seen as a brilliant detective he was by then almost forgotten with just a very short obituary in the Police Gazette. He lost his hero status in the eyes of the public when he was unable to say with any certainty who it was carried out the murder of Savill Kent.

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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Distance Between Us by Maggie O'Farrell

Click to view large image of cover in new window...This is the third novel I have read by Maggie O’Farrell and I find her novels easy reading but nothing spectacular. I enjoyed this more than ‘My Lover’s Lover’ and about the same as ‘After You’d Gone.’  ‘The Distance Between Us’ is a love story full of complex relationships and lots of pain.

At the start of the novel the protagonists Stella Gilmore and Jake Kildoune do not even know of the existence of the other. Of course it is obvious to the reader that they will meet eventually.  First we are told the two linking stories separately as Stella and Jake move geographically closer together as they desperately try to find themselves and each other amidst the confusion of their complicated lives. Stella finds her London life disturbing her so much that she runs away to Scotland, to somewhere only her sister Nina, to whom she is really close, will understand the significance of.  Meanwhile Jake suffers a terrifying experience in Hong Kong which results in him finding himself married and in the UK with an invalid wife that he doesn’t love!  He runs away in search of the father he never knew, yes in you guessed Scotland.  I thought the title was a clever use of words as to me it sums up the void in the intense relationship between Jake and Stella, there was so much they had to discover about each other.

In general if you enjoy a novel with a large cast of characters and can cope with the style of jumping around in time and place then this is worth reading.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Size Matters by Judy Astley

Click to view large image of cover in new window...Judy Astley is an author I have been reading since she published her first novel in 1994. They are generally an enjoyable light romance/ chick lit type novel, nothing brain stretching but usually fun.
This one made me laugh but I think it is far from the best of her novels.
 The protagonist Jay works her way through a selection of diet options whilst awaiting the imminent return of her cousin Delphine from Australia. Jay lives in a chaotic household with her husband three children and almost son in law. She owns together with a friend, a successful cleaning company.
Jay has always been envious of Delphine, not just her thinness but the fact that she was the indulged daughter who had everything she could ever want as a child. Having lived in Australia for many years Delphine is returning to the UK to marry her third husband. It is the imminent return of her perfect cousin that makes Jay decide that she will diet and become more like her, well organised and most importantly thin!  She tries them all High Carb, No Protein,High Protein, No Carb, High Fibre, Wheat Free, Fat Free, Grapefruit, Atkins, Conley and so on, with a variety of successes and failures.
This novel might not have much going for it as a story but what it does provide is well written humour.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Memory Garden by Rachel Hore

Click to view large image of cover in new window...
The lives of two women, Melanie Pentrath and Pearl Treglown , born in different centuries and the interweaving of their stories as they face similar challenges.
Melanie retreats to Cornwall on a sabbatical to write a book about painters from the region. She hopes that being there will help heal a broken heart.
A garden that holds clues to the past helps Mel and her landlord Patrick learn the secrets of Merryn Hall and the story of Pearl.

This is a light romantic read and although the story is similar in many ways to the style of Kate Morton’s novels it is in my opinion not written in the same literary vein and therefore I do not think destined to become a literary classic.
Nevertheless it is well worth reading if you do not expect more than just an enjoyable read. Rachel Hore’s atmospheric descriptions of Cornwall and the garden at Merryn Hall are excellent and actually much stronger than the plot itself which might be considered rather weak if you were expecting a literary read.

However, I enjoyed this enough to say that I will definitely look out for more novels by this author.