Some treasured gold you’ll find in unlikely places – The suspicions of Mr Whicher, by Kate Summerscale

summ

definitely not my copy, which looked as if an army of backpackers had stomped on it with the full force of their combined body and rucksacks

If you’re anything like me, you are currently slipping your 3rd cup of coffee of the day – despite it being 10.05 a.m, but I woke up early and had to do some stats, the horror! so everything is forgiven – and your hair has started self-dreadlocking on its own volition, because it does not agree with the constant changes in humidity levels I put it through. (Picture one of these bits of dry bushes flying in the Desert, like:

desert

an entirely faithful portrait of yours truly – missing the coffee cup

Well, maybe not that exactly. But if you are any-other-thing like me then you are probably fascinated with crime novels. I read them on bouts of 3 or 4 in a few days, like an addict, with the same amount of love for every sub-genre, from the Nordic noirs to the quaint English Miss Marple style, the dark and violent American thrillers, the food-obsessed and funny Italians, the metaphysical and historical meanderings of Fred Vargas (French), the Chinese, and even, recently, the Lao.

I love them all. And that’s why I’m exceedingly grateful that the friend travelling with me right now, who is as much of a book-addict as I am, but with more faith in Humanity (and  specifically more faith in what you might find in guesthouses or travellers’ bookshops along the way, I gave up some time ago, tired of so much Paolo Coelho and adopted the e-reader, but I still browse them, of course) discovered this gem in a bookstall in Bangkok.

This is a thoroughly researched book about the first murder mystery that sprouted a real fascination in papers in Victorian England and started the figure of the Detective, as we know it, inspiring Dickens and so many writers after him.

Summerscale dutifully reports about the crime – the gruesome murder of a three year old boy in a Victorian family house, with maps and detailed interviews, allowing you to play detective (which I love more than anything), but the book is much more than this, presenting a complete portrait of the society at the time, the repercussions of this crime on the arising figure of the detective as a controversial hero rather than an intruder and a snitch, notions of class and culture, the resented intrusion in the sacred privacy of a gentleman’s home and the individual destinies marked by this particular tragedy. Yes, there is that much in one book.

I read this, on a plane, in 3 hours non-stop. It is not a traditional gripping read, as it is, and remains, a thoroughly documented non-fiction book. But it makes it – for facts-hungry people – all the more alluring. And it enlightens any crime novel you have read or may read in the future.

So, fellow-crime lovers, pick this one up, I beg you. I’m pretty sure you won’t have to browse every single bookstall in Bangkok to find it, as it has won a ridiculous (but deserved) heap of prizes.

 

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