Kate Summerscale has won the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for her book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Bloomsbury). Summerscale spent the better part of two years researching and writing the book which details the investigation into the murder of a three-year-old boy at Road Hill House in England’s Georgian countryside. The book focuses primarily on the efforts of Jonathan Whicher, the Scotland Yard detective who solved the crime but destroyed himself in the process. Whicher and his investigations are believed to have directly influenced the detective fiction genre, and the case is credited with creating ongoing public interest in crime and criminal detection. Whicher was one of the first eight Scotland Yard detectives.
The Times reports on Summerscale’s win, quoting prize judge Rosie Boycott, who commented that The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is “a dramatic page-turning detective yarn of a real-life murder that inspired the birth of modern detective fiction. Kate Summerscale has brilliantly merged scrupulous archival research with vivid storytelling that reads with the pace of a Victorian thriller”.
Summerscale left her job as literary editor at the Daily Telegraph to write the book. The book is written in the form of a Victorian murder mystery, but Summerscale is quick to point out that her book is not a novel. She tells UK television’s Book Zone that everything in the book is pulled directly from her research from the clothing worn to the weather. It’s a great and lasting tribute to Mr. Whicher, a man Summerscale admits becoming rather fond of as she wrote his story. Her life-altering dedication to telling this man’s story is commendable to say the least. She tells Dan Vyleta at Raincoat Books:
The most interesting facts I gathered about his private life were hard-earned, the fruit of long hours in archives and records offices. His professional life was much easier to unearth. Thanks to digital archives, I was able to find accounts of dozens of cases on which he had worked, and from these I tried to deduce what kind of a man he had been.
On a personal note, I’m thrilled the book is now out in Australia. It’ll certainly make the wait for the next Erik Larson book a little easier to bear.
Summerscale discusses the book on Book Zone: