What makes this history of a sensational Victorian murder and its aftermath so irresistible? First, it plays with a cool expertise on our genre tastes, as Summerscale both invokes favourite tales – the country-house killing, the family melodrama, the detective's investigation – and shows how reality darkens them.
Then there's the fine art of the telling, quiet in voice but sumptuous in texture, as pioneer sleuth Inspector Whicher arrives from London in July 1860 to study the hideous death of little Saville Kent in a Wiltshire big house plagued by step-family hatreds and sexual shame: "the investigator had to find not a person but a person's hidden self".
The case shaped detection in fact and fiction, and transfixed the nation – crime as collective ritual, shrewdly outlined. And, beyond confession and sentence, a mystery persists. Gnawing doubt adds to the rich blend of moods.Reuse content