Friday 13 June 2008

Road movie

I've been reading Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, or The Murder at Road Hill House. It's a real-life Victorian detective story, an utterly absorbing account of a horrific child murder that gripped the nation in the 1860s, and provided the template for many fictional country-house detective stories. Summerscale's research is impressive, but the style and pace of her writing are even more so: the early chapter describing the house on the night before the murder holds the reader in breathless suspense and is almost filmic in its vividness. Some of the Amazon reviewers have complained about the number of digressions into social history, but that's just the kind of thing that history nerds like me love about the book.

My reading of Summerscale's book followed hot on the heels of Jerry White's equally absorbing London in the Nineteenth Century: A Human Awful Wonder of God. Taken together with my recent attempts to trace my family history, it feels as though I'm living imaginatively in the Victorian and late Georgian periods at the moment, my head full of dissenters and reformers, and captivated by the thought that my obscure ancestors walked, and often lived in, the same London streets as Blake, Hazlitt and Marx.

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