Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Suspicions of Mr. Wicher

I heard a review of this book on NPR's "All Things Considered" and immediately added it to my reading list.

It's about the murder of a young boy inside his locked him. From the outset, it's pretty obvious who committed the murder, and I won't give it away here. The interesting parts of the book are the details of the investigation and the look inside Victorian-era middle class life in England.

Detective work as we know it today was in its infancy at the time. Scotland Yard had just been formed, with just a few detectives on the staff. There were few scientific methods of detection available, and the detectives and investigators relied mostly on their instincts and hunches.

When assigned to this case, Mr. Wicher was something of the shining star of the detective force. He'd been profiled by Charles Dickens and used as a model for several characters in the burgeoning detective fiction genre.

Unfortunately, his conclusions about this case, while absolutely correct, weren't believed by the public, which followed the case closely, and some of his superiors. He ended up resigning shortly after the first trial. He was later redeemed by the murder's confession, but I'm sure that was small consolation to him.

The book wasn't quite engaging as I had hoped, mostly because there really isn't much mystery about who committed the murder, but I still enjoyed reading it for the historical aspects.

1 comment:

knittergran said...

I enjoyed the book more than you did, it seems. All of the historical information on the beginnings of the detective profession was interesting. That they were considered lower class and therefore shouldn't be investigating INSIDE the house of people superior to them was bizarre! Nice men don't accuse proper young ladies of murder seemed to be the consensus. I liked learning where terms, like limelight, clue, and detective came from. And I have to take back my comments about Poe's being a hack writer. Apparently this crime writing genre was new, and ALL of the writers of the time used real life crimes as inspiration. Dickens even knew and interviewed Whicher.
AND I think that brother William was in on it. And isn't it interesting to learn that he became famous as a scientist, and apparently invented the making of cultured pearls? I was surprised that the daughter could write such pleading letters to encourage her early release from prison, because life was just too difficult there. How about the murdered brother? She seemed to have forgotten him as time went on.