I was very keen to read this book; the cover alone intrigued me looking, as it does, like a historic newspaper article. It is a fascinating subject for a book; a real life crime committed in Victorian times that has always horrified and puzzled the public, and even by the end of this book there are no firm answers given and the reader is left wondering what exactly was the chain of events and the identity of the murderer.

The story is about the killing in 1860 of a three year old child, Saville Kent, who is taken from his bed at his family home of Road Hill House in Wiltshire, and where it becomes apparent that, as the house is locked, the guilty party or parties must have been someone from inside the house and suspicion falls on each family member and servant in turn.

The book takes the form and style of a fictional story as it gradually introduces the characters, then the event of the crime, the unfolding of the clues and evidence, the suspicions of the police, and also the building up of the reader’s guesses as to the guilty and innocent. It is a stroke of genius, I feel, to write about a true crime as the reader is then bearing in mind throughout the whole book that this actually has happened and these people have really lived and died and that these were actually someone’s secrets. I very much admired the amount of research that Summerscale has obviously done on this crime and on detective procedures of the time.

The book is very gripping and I found I couldn’t put it down. It is essentially a non-fiction book but it isn’t dry and factual in tone; I found it exciting and raced through it.

I also enjoyed Summerscale’s references to fictional detective novels of the time, particularly Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Moonstone, and Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and found it fascinating how these favourite books of mine had been influenced by this true crime. It made me want to re-read these books, and also to read other books that she mentions, particularly Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. I liked the fact that Summerscale’s obvious enthusiasm and respect for classics matches my own.

I think this is an unusual book and, I wonder, may have been one that the author and publishers were perhaps unsure as to how it would be received, being a non-fiction book but written in the style of a fiction. But I highly recommend it and hope that Summerscale writes another such book.

The fascinating story of a famous Victorian murder case - and the notorious detective who solved it
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