The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale - review by Andrew Lycett

Andrew Lycett

Day of the Detective

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, or The Murder at Road Hill House

By

Bloomsbury 360pp £14.99 order from our bookshop
 

With his hazy command of forensics and his restless scouring for clues, the detective is an archetypal mid-Victorian figure, reflecting the inquisitiveness of an age seeking to extend the boundaries of knowledge.

Policemen, such as the Bow Street Runners and Robert Peel’s ‘Bobbies’, had, of course, been around much longer. But their methods were crude, and the methodical, evidence-sifting detective only surfaced in 1842, when the Metropolitan Police, concerned at criminals’ unhindered ability to operate across the borders of its various London districts, set up a small, centralised detective division at Scotland Yard.

Reports of these new foot soldiers in the war against crime began creeping into newspapers and even fiction, but it was not until ten years later that the first proper detective appeared in literature in the form of Inspector Bucket in Dickens’s Bleak House. (In the meantime Edgar Allan Poe

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter