Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I will not be doing a full review of Perdido Street Station just yet. I think I would like to read a few more books by Mieville first, particularly since some of them take place in the same world.

So, Today I will be talking about The Suspiscions of Mr. Whicher.

The book is a sort of combination of a true crime novel and autobiography of the family and the detective in the case chronicled. Summerscale uses not only archives about the case but also quotes even the letters written in to the newspapers at the time. The familiarity of the complaints about gruesome news coverage as well as the shock of authors writing novels about fictitious crimes with gruesome similarity was interesting. 'Ripped from the headlines' is not a new phenomenon and horrible crimes have been happening for forever and being exploited by the media for over a hundred years. Maybe I'm weird, but I find that oddly comforting compared to the idea that the past was a golden age of wonder and the current state of affairs is evidence of a horrible decline.

The crime occurred in 1860 and the detective at the center is a contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle and it is argued by the author a possible basis for the character. Detectives were new and the idea of using scientific principles to solve crimes was new, but came into such conflict with the Victorian morals and principles of the day. Cloth evidence is sized against only the serving women of the house hold, the delicate ladies of the house could not be subject to such an indignity. This and a similar reluctance of the investigators to truly apply objective and scientific methods we would think of as basic today, leads to the investigation being majorly bungled from the beginning and the resolution all the more difficult to pursue.

A warning against for the faint of heart, the novel is about the murder of a real child and can be graphic at parts. It's not light reading, but there's redemptive quality to the twist at the end. I won't give it away in this initial post, but I definitely wasn't predicting it which is always nice when reading a book that feels like a whodunnit. Anyone interested in true crime, histories or mysteries should find it enlightening and well worth a read.

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