Mr. Whicher, the Prequel

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 5, 2013

Last night I finished up The Dagenham Murder, the story of a Victorian police constable’s mysterious and violent death and its investigation by, among others, our estimable Mr. Whicher. Quite enjoyed the work. I’ve posted a book review at Goodreads, but I also want to note a few things from the perspective of my own little project.

First, commendable research by the authors. Having performed a limited amount of real, primary-source Victorian-era archival research for Brilliant Deduction—mostly in trying to reconstruct the life of Whicher’s contemporary “Paddington” Pollaky—I have a deep appreciation and respect for what Rhodes, Shelden and Abnett accomplished. They bring to life more than a dozen people, most of them humble figures without anything like the press coverage trail available for Pollaky, aside from their involvement in this one sensational crime and its aftermath.

Meanwhile, I was nonetheless especially interested in one of the few individuals with notoriety beyond the context of the Dagenham case, i.e. Jack Whicher. For those who share my interest, The Dagenham Murder is a must-read. Whicher’s role in the story is limited, but significant, certainly in the context of his own career. His investigation into George Clark’s murder, with its many similarities and curious differences compared to the Road Murder investigation that rerouted his career years later, offers almost limitless material for interpretation and speculation. Other little details also enrich the picture of Whicher and his work, including contextual history such as how detection in Australia (relevant to The Tichborne Affair, the great case of Whicher’s PI career) compared with the British analogue, as well as personal notes such as those revealed by Whicher’s last will. (For those interested, The Dagenham Murder is available via Amazon.)

I dearly wish that I had discovered this book before completing Brilliant Deduction. (Looking back, the case doesn’t seem to have been mentioned in Summerscale’s Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, so at least I don’t feel like any obvious pointers were missed.) The information in The Dagenham Murder doesn’t dramatically change the impression I related of Whicher, but it does enrich it with more detail. And given the limited sources I found to work with, most of which focused on Whicher’s Scotland Yard career and the Tichborne case, any further details are gratifying; as the Clark investigation, as noted, seems particularly significant in context with Whicher’s better known cases, it really deserves mention.

Ah well. Aside from the fact that I can at least document further discoveries here, I can take further consolation from the fact that I never intended Brilliant Deduction to be the final word on any of its subjects. Indeed, my hope was always to create more of an introduction that could point people toward further reading, as well as a “conversation starter” that also might promote further authorship. Happily, I feel like this is taking place. I can’t take credit for much of it, but I can at least invite others as I follow along—and there’s more to come. In addition to alerting me to his own Whicher “prequel,” Mr. Shelden informed me that the ITV dramatization of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is to have a sequel this year

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