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.

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