Interesting enough, but lacking in the drama I’d been promised. 3.5/5.
The blurb: It is midnight on 30th June 1860 and all is quiet in the Kent family’s elegant house in Road, Wiltshire. The next morning, however, they wake to find that their youngest son has been the victim of an unimaginably gruesome murder – the house was bolted from the inside. As Jack Whicher, the most celebrated detective of his day, arrives at Road to track down the killer, the murder provokes national hysteria at the thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes – scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealously, loneliness and loathing.
This true story has all the hallmarks of a classic gripping murder mystery. A body, a detective, a country house steeped in secrets and a whole family of suspects – it is the original Victorian whodunnit.
This is my second audiobook and, although my experience of listening to the story was positive, this is definitely a book I would have preferred to read myself. While Christian Rodska did a perfectly fine job with narrating and doing the different voices, I have a problem attending to non-fiction at the best of times, and my mind started to wander in the less than fascinating sections of the story.
I wonder if this book is struggling to be too many things at once. On the one hand, Summerscale presents us with the shocking events of the murder at Road Hill House and details of the subsequent police investigation. But the book also charts the rise of the detective, both in nineteenth-century England and as a figure in popular fiction. As if that weren’t enough, this is also a social history, touching on roles of class, gender and (perhaps most interestingly) the press in the suspicions surrounding the case and the fates of everyone involved.
Summerscale deserves heaps of praise for the work that must have gone into researching this book. When the “characters” speak, their words are taken from court reports, press coverage and – where possible – their own private writings. And, overall, I think the author pulls off cramming so much diverse content into one book and structures it all in a way that makes sense, even if it means the narrative is less than gripping at times.
Personally, I found the information on the emergence of the detective and their depiction in fiction more interesting than the ghastly case itself! But that’s probably just me…
Overall: an interesting book, particularly if you’re a devoted fan of detective fiction and would like to know more about the birth and early evolution of the genre.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul