Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Murder Most 'Orrid

This year's Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction has been won by In The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale, which takes for its subject a notorious 1860 murder case in which Saville Kent, a three year old child from a respectable middle-class family disappeared from his bed. His body was later found stuffed down the privy (outside toilet).

As Charlotte Higgins explains in the Guardian :

The Road Hill House murder provoked national hysteria, and inspired writers such as Charles Dickens and that great exponent of the Victorian sensation novel, Wilkie Collins.
Chair of Judges, Rosie Boycott described the book as:

... one of those great non-fiction books that uses the techniques of fiction to magnificent effect. On first reading, it is an absolute page-turner. Then, when you reread it, you realise how many levels it has, how much it tells you - about the founding of the police, the Victorian study of physiognomy, the inherent snobbery of the time that meant that the police wouldn't touch anyone from the upper classes, because they 'couldn't' have committed a crime. ... And then there's the way the case became a media event, in a very McCann-like way. The newspapers of the time started spinning stories of who might have done it.
There's a really whizzy website for the book, complete with interactive map of the house where the murders took place. And you can read an appetite-whetting extract here.

There was a very strong shortlist for this year's prize and the other books that were nominated are :

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart by Tim Butcher
Crow Country by Mark Cocker
The Whisperers by Orlando Figes
The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French
The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross

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