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?

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

In three words:

Round-up, Paris, WW2

 

What I thought:

Before reading this book I knew nothing (nor had I even heard of) The Round Up in France in 1942. On 16th July of that year, the French police dragged over 13,000 Jews from their beds and marched them to the Vel D’Hiv (a sports stadium) in Paris where they were crammed together and left with no food, water or toilet facilities for days on end. People fell ill and died in front of the families and thousands of strangers and were left humiliated at having to go to the toilet where they stood in the cramped conditions. Days later, these same Jews were marched (paraded down through the streets of Paris) on to holding camps before being separated into men, women and children (mothers torn from screaming, crying children) and taken on to the concentration camps in Germany and Poland. Now my little history lesson is over, what I loved most about this book was finding out about such a little know part of the holocaust – even more shocking because it was these families own countrymen who sent them to their deaths, not the Nazis.

Sarah’s Key is about a young girl of 10 years old who, on the morning she is awoken from her bed by the police to take her to the Vel D’Hiv, locks her 3 year old brother in a cupboard in the house, slipping the key deep into her pocket, and promises to come back for him when they are allowed to go free (which she suspects will only be a few hours). Interwoven between this little girls horrific story as the realisation hits her that she isn’t going home and that her brother is trapped alone in a black cupboard that he can’t get out of, and the story of Julia, an American woman who has lived in Paris with her French husband and daughter for the last twenty years. When Julia and her family move into a renovated house in Paris, she becomes aware of a Jewish family who once lived there and were taken during The Round Up in 1942 and she becomes obsessed with finding out more.

The author herself says that this isn’t intended to be a work of historical fiction, but a tribute to the children of vel D’Hiv, however it was the historical element that I found most compelling and what carried me through the pages. While this is undoubtebly a good book and one I looked forward to picking up, I did find the ‘modern day’ story a little contrived and even clichéd at the end (in fact, I’m pretty sure a groan escaped my lips).

Verdict: I would recommend this book as it is well worth reading about, but I have to say that had the story of the Round Up not been such fascinating (and shocking) reading for me, the book in terms of any literary merit was only pretty average.

  Have you read this book or seen the film? (I really want to see it)

  Which other books about the holocaust do you recommend?