Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I originally bought a print copy of this book when the bookstore I was working for closed; I had seen it on the shelf for months, and it kept drawing my eye. In my house, too, the book drew my eye, but I never bothered to pick it up. It was enough to have the book on the shelf.

However, this title was offered as the "Nook Daily Find" at the beginning of February, and when I spent another $2.99 to buy an ebook copy, I realized I had better read it after having paid for two copies. (I donated the print copy to the county library.)

This book was everything I had hoped it would be. It is the story of the murder of Saville Kent, a three-year-old boy, and the subsequent obsessive attention paid to the crime by the newspaper and public. Initially, the local police attempted to solve the crime, but eventually Detective Inspector Jack Whicher of the London Metropolitan Police was sent to lead the investigation. Summerscale illuminates the Victorian obsession with detection as well as their fear of invasive outsiders learning the secrets of the home. Summerscale grounds her book in the legal and newspaper reports of the crime as well as at least one book written about it shortly after young Saville's murder and Whicher's inability to discover the killer. The legal system of Victorian England was alarmingly different from what we know today; for instance, the defendant was not allowed to speak at his/her own trial. The case was bungled by local law enforcement, and when Whicher was sent from London, the case was already cold.

Throughout the book, Summerscale references Victorian sensation fiction--the precursor of today's psychological fiction and the detective novel--to illustrate the public's ambivalent response to the case and to the detective in charge of it. Initially, Whicher is a detective-hero, but as the case grew colder and murkier--and his conclusions more shocking--public opinion turned against him. The highly regarded Inspector Buckett of Bleak House and Sergeant Cuff of The Moonstone become the amateurish Stephen Audley of Lady Audley's Secret, a young man tormented by the crime of detection itself in addition to the crime he is trying to solve.

Some readers may be turned off by Summerscale's extensive use of period documents to trace the crime and its investigation. They may be expecting a more straightforward narrative about the death of a little boy. That's not what this book is. Instead, this is an analysis of a moment in Victorian England where a boy is killed, a detective is maligned, and the public becomes aware of the number of secrets that may be hiding in a middle class home. I loved every minute of this book.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: Moonlight in the Morning

Moonlight in the Morning
Moonlight in the Morning by Jude Deveraux

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Forgive the execrable title. If you're a full member of the Cult of Deveraux, you'll love this book, as I did. If you're a part-time, non-dues paying member, it might not do much for you. If you're completely unfamiliar with Deveraux, I'd recommend going back to Lavender Morning (the start of her Edilean series) and catching up a bit before you hit this one. At the very least, you need to read the contemporary Edileans--Lavender Morning, Scarlet Nights, and Heartwishes. But that's not too much to ask, is it? Read three books in preparation for this one? Ah, who am I kidding? If you're drawn to Deveraux, odds are that you've picked up her books a few times over the years. This book is much like her others--a career woman meets a wonderful, dreamy man who is also a professional and they must figure out if their desire for each other is enough to support them if it means abandoning their work. If you've read Deveraux, or if you have any common sense, you'll be able to see the answer long before her characters. However, I enjoy the ride enough that I don't mind knowing in advance all the curves in the road. As predictable as she is, there is something sweet and satisfying for me in a Deveraux novel. And that's about all I can say.

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