fredag den 28. januar 2011

Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (2008)


This is a British non-fiction account of a true crime in Victorian England which took place in 1860.

The gruesome story begins when three-year-old Saville Kent is taken away from his bed in the nursery in the middle of the night. A few hours later he is found in the servants´ privy in the yard with his throat cut.

Almost immediately the local police suspect the nursemaid Elizabeth Gough, and they are rather unwilling to question the members of the middle class family though it is most likely that the killer was one of the eleven persons who spent the night under the roof of Road Hill House. One of their theories is that the boy caught Gough with a man in her bed and threatened to tell, but even though their prime suspect for this role is the father, Mr Kent, they focus on questioning and charging the young woman.

After two weeks Scotland Yard is called in, however, and the renowned Inspector Whicher suspects Constance, Saville´s sixteen-year-old half-sister who might be jealous because the younger siblings get more attention than her, and/or she might be mentally unstable like her late mother.

There were several aspects of this book I appreciated. The account of the death of little Saville is very thorough and well written, and it is obvious that Summerscale knows her crime and her period thoroughly so it is also an excellent document of crime and police work in Victorian times. Besides, there are several references to Victorian crime novels which are based on or inspired by the Road Hill murder (I plan to read one or two of these soon).

The wide scope was not quite what I had expected, though, so parts of the book felt more like work than entertainment, because I wanted to know who killed little Saville, plus how and why, so I skimmed some sections to get back to the case. I found the lengthy accounts of the detectives´ former careers and private lives particularly uninteresting.

Another weakness is that Summerscale often tells the reader something and afterwards she uses a lengthy quotation to say exactly the same.

I enjoyed this quotation from “The Semi-Detached House” (1859), however:

“´I like a good murder that can´t be found out,´ says Mrs Hopkinson… ´That is, of course, it is very shocking, but I like to hear about it.´”
(So true, Mrs Hopkinson).

I bought the book myself and read it for the 2011 Global Reading Challenge (Seventh Continent, history). 



Kate Summerscale, Mr Whichers mistanker (2009)

Denne britiske bog om en virkelig forbrydelse i Dronning Victorias England er ikke en roman, men en fagbog.

Den grusomme historie begynder, da treårige Saville Kent bliver fjernet fra sin seng i børneværelset midt om natten. Næste dag bliver han fundet i tjenestefolkenes udendørs lokum med halsen skåret over.

Det lokale politi retter straks deres mistanke mod barnepigen Elizabeth Gough, og de er ikke meget for at udspørge medlemmer af middelklassefamilien, selv om det er højst sandsynligt, at morderen var en af de elleve personer, som befandt sig i herskabsvillaen den pågældende nat. En af deres teorier er, at drengen overraskede barnepigen og en mand i sengen og truede med at sladre, men selv om den vigtigste mistænkte mand er drengens far, retter de al deres opmærksomhed mod den unge kvinde. 

Men efter to uger bliver Scotland Yard tilkaldt, og den berømte inspektør Whicher mistænker i stedet Constance, Savilles 16-årige halvsøster. Han mener, motivet er jalousi, fordi de yngre søskende får mere opmærksomhed end de ældre, eller at pigen er uligevægtig, ligesom sin afdøde mor.

Der var mange aspekter af denne bog, jeg satte stor pris på. Beretningen om Savilles død er grundig og velskrevet, og det er tydeligt, at Kate Summerscale kender sit materiale og viktoriatiden til bunds, så den er et fremragende værk om forbrydelser og politiarbejde i perioden. Desuden er der adskillige henvisninger til viktorianske krimier, som er baseret på eller inspiret af Road Hill-mordet (jeg har tænkt mig at anmelde et par stykker inden så længe).

Den brede pensel var imidlertid ikke, hvad jeg havde forventet, så visse afsnit føltes mere som arbejde end fornøjelse, fordi jeg bare gerne ville vide, hvem der dræbte lille Saville, samt hvordan og hvorfor, så jeg skimmede en del afsnit for at komme tilbage til sagen. Og de lange redegørelser for detektivernes tidligere karriere og privatliv interesserede mig især ikke.

Endnu en svaghed er, at Summerscale har en tendens til at fortælle sine læsere noget, for bagefter at bringe et langtrukket citat, som siger nøjagtig det samme.

Dette citat fra krimien “The Semi-Detached House” (1859) morede mig imidlertid:

“´Jeg kan lide et godt mord, som ikke kan afsløres´, siger Fru Hopkinson… ´Det vil sige, det er selvfølgelig chokerende, men jeg kan godt lide at høre om det.´
” (Ja, det kan vi krimifans jo).

Jeg købte selv bogen under en ferie i Skotland.
.

12 kommentarer:

Margot Kinberg sagde ...

Dorte - Thanks for this review. I wouldn't say I'm an avid fan of true crime, but some of it's very well-written. As you say, too, sometimes you just want to find out who the killer was. I agree, too, that Summerscale did her "homework."

Clarissa Draper sagde ...

Although I find true-crime disturbing, I love the sound of the mystery. It's too bad they never found out who did it.
CD

....Petty Witter sagde ...

I really like the sound of this one. I don't know why but the cover reminds me of a 'wild west' wanted poster.

Cozy in Texas sagde ...

I found this story well written and although the gruesome discovery was heartbreaking, delving into the "justice" system at the time was interesting.
Ann

Dorte H sagde ...

Margot: she is a very thorough academic.

Clarissa: well, there is more about that in the book, but though it is non-fiction, I didn´t want to spoil it for readers who don´t know about the case.

Tracy: the cover is very appealing - old and faded - very suitable for the content.

Ann: nice to meet you!
Summerscale is extremely good at what she does, and I thought that if I ever wanted to write crime set in Victorian times, her book would certainly be a valuable tool - so my problem was only that I had expected something different.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams sagde ...

I really looked forward to reading this book when it first came out, but unfortunately it dragged a bit for me...and went off on tangents. With a little more editing, it could have been better, I think. Sounds like you have a similar opinion of it. Still, interesting. But I skimmed much of the end of it.

Dorte H sagde ...

Elizabeth: yes, that was exactly what I felt. I know part of the problem was my own expectations, but I do think some sections were repetitive.

Book Bird Dog sagde ...

I love a good mystery but I'd be unhappy if I didn't find out who really did it in the end. Did tis one end with the crime solved?

Kelly sagde ...

Wow! TRUE crime. That makes the excerpt you shared as bait all the more disturbing.

Very good review! I think I'll pass on reading it, though, because if you got bogged down with the tangents, then I know I would.

Dorte H sagde ...

Harvee: I´d say the ending is quite satisfactory.

Kelly: yes, but also excusable as she didn´t make it up. And you are probably right that you would see this as a veeery slow book.

Beth F sagde ...

I like true crime sometimes, but this one sounds like there are a lot of side trips. I think I'll pass.

Dorte H sagde ...

Beth: many reviewers have loved it, but she *is* very thorough.