The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
by Kate Summerscale
In 1860, a three year old English boy disappears from his room in Road Hill House, where his nursemaid and younger sister sleep. He is later found with his throat cut in a privy and the case quickly becomes a media sensation. When local law enforcement fails to make progress, Scotland Yard sends the best of their eight detectives - Mr. Whicher- to investigate. This sparks a national fascination with detectives and inspires the detective fiction genre. Charles Dickens wrote his theories of the case to Wilkie Collins, who in turn based his Sgt. Cuff in The Moonstone upon Mr Whicher.
When the Scotland Yard Detective arrives at Road Hill he finds limited evidence, but a multitude of suspects and family secrets. When he accuses and arrests the boy's sixteen year old half sister of the crime, the tide of public opinion turns against him, refusing to believe a family member could commit such a crime. Mr Wilcher returns to London in disgrace, leaving the crime unsolved, until years later.
More then a true crime story, this is a fascinating peek into the lives and minds of middle class Victorian England as well as the society as a whole. The research is impressive and thoroughly documented with footnotes and references, but at the same time it is an enjoyable read.