Throwback Thursday: The Suspicions of Mr Witcher by Kate Summerscale

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My pick for this week is The Suspicions of Mr. Witcher by Kate Summerscale which I remember really enjoying when I read it.

9780747596486What I thought:

What a fascinating book this was. I expected to read about the true story of one of the most shocking crimes in 19th century England but I hadn’t bargained for also getting a fantastically written and hugely interesting social commentary of Victorian times and attitudes and behaviours with regards to the emergence of Police Detectives in this country.

Mr. Whicher, the Detective called into this particular case, was one of the first ever Scotland Yard Detectives which came with its own share of suspicion and mistrust. The case in question was the murder of a 3-year-old boy, one of the several children of a well-to-do family in a country house in Wiltshire. In June 1860, the young boy was found to be missing from his cot in the morning and later that day his body was discovered (with his throat slit and a stab wound to his chest) down the servant’s toilet outside in the grounds. It soon became apparent that the perpetrator was one of the people inside the house on that night (which consisted of the boys family, the nursemaid, and housemaid). Whicher was called in to find out which one of the family murdered the three-year-old while the whole of England became obsessed with the drama, writing into the newspapers in their thousands offering their opinion on who committed the crime.

While I found the unravelling of this story fascinating in itself, I was also delighted to see so many references to some great Victorian authors including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. 1860 was also the year that the first victorian “sensational” novel was published and this appeared to feed the frenzy of the public. This particular case has also been reported to have been the basis for subsequent rather famous novels such as Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood , Collins’ The Moonstone and Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret all of which contain themes from this particular story. Dickens (who was also an aquaintance of Mr Whicher) even wrote letters to Collins offering his theory on what took place that night.

This book is completely non-ficiton to point that only recorded conversations and facts are included (which seems to be the reason there are alot of negative reviews about it – perhaps it seemed too dry for some). And while this is more of a why-dunnit than a who-dunnit , there are still a few surprises along the way that caught me off-guard.

Verdict:

I thoroughtly enjoyed this book; infact I could barely put it down. Summerscale stuck to the facts without trying to sensationalise the story any more than it already was by putting words in peoples mouths and the result was a hugely enjoyable novel about a shocking crime and its repercussions in Victorian society. Highly recommended.

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Have you read this? Do you like crime non-fiction and could you recommend any others?

The Unseen by Katherine Webb

In three words:    

Murder, deception, secrets

What I thought:

I read Katherine Webb’s The Legacy last year and loved it so I had high hopes for her new book The Unseen. Like The Legacy, this book also had dual storylines, one set in 1911 and the other in 2011, and the present day was used as a vehicle to help us unravel exactly what had happened 100 years ago. I am seeing these types of books (non-linear) all over the place at the moment and I am growing really bored with them; however, just like last time, Webb pulls it off brilliantly.

The Unseen is centred around a vicarage in 1911 where Hester Canning lives with her vicar husband. She is desperate for a child but Albert doesn’t seem at all interested in her, despite being a loving husband in any other room apart from the bedroom. Hester’s desire and curiosity about what exactly should be going on under the duvet provided a few giggles (not at her – poor thing – but as to how innocent those days were). During the summer of that year, the Cannings receive two new people in to their house, which sets off a chain of events that will ulitmately result in murder. The first is Cat Morley, who has just been released from jail in London for being a suffragette (although the rumour mill in rural Berkshire where the Cannings live) have her down as a murderer, fornicator etc the minute she arrives. Cat is a fantastic character and I warmed to her very much. She is dissatisfied with her lot in life and doesn’t understand why your birth dictates your station in life. She wants to do things and see things and is very ahead of her time. Often, while reading this book, I tried to imagine how I would have been in those days too: I am not one for holding my tongue if I feel something is wrong or unjust, and I really felt for Cat and her desire to make a change. The other newbie into the Canning household was Robin Durrant who was a slimey, work-shy, snake of a man who had Albert wrapped around his little finger and managed to disrupt the whole household. Back in 2011, Journalist Leah tries to fit together the pieces of what happened that summer through letters and journals found.

Despite, what it says on the cover, this is not really a story of the supernatural at all. It is more a tale of the huge gap between the classes and the sexes, with mystery and intrigue to hook us in. Yes, there is a murder but it is right at the end, and there are other revelations that come to the fore at the end that have been building nicely for a while too which is ultimately what makes this story so compelling. The atmosphere is really well created and the characters are so three-dimensional that I either loved them or hated them (I love it when an author can do that – there is nothing worse that not caring one way or another about a character). I loved Cat and Hester, despised Albert and Robin and just adored Sophie Bell the cook!

Verdict: Another belter from this author and I eagerly await whatever she comes up with next.

 

(Source: I bought a copy of this book for myself)

 

  Have you read anything by Katherine Webb yet? Are you going to try her books?