Push Over Poirot—The 1st Real Detective (Book Review)

Push Over Poirot—The 1st Real Detective (Book Review)


A Victorian "Closed Manor" Murder Mystery that shocked England, Sparked Our Fascination for Detective Fiction, and Indirectly Inspired Crime Books Like Mine

British author Kate Summerscale's book has all the ingredients of a brilliant Agatha Christie novel—an elegant country house, a brooding extended family, their shifty servants, the cynical townspeople and a Scotland Yard detective—but her story is so much more than that.

For starters, it's based on a real murder.

Set in England in 1860, it looks at the true story of three-year-old Saville Kent, who is ripped from his nursery in the dead of night and stabbed to death, his tiny body discarded in an outdoor privy, or toilet.

A truly horrendous crime, it was made even more disturbing when it quickly came to light that Saville's nursemaid was sleeping just metres away, and the culprit was most likely a family member or a servant.

Enter Scotland Yard's finest…

In an era when detectives were only a recent invention (who knew they didn't exist just two decades earlier?), Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher was met with suspicion by the local coppers and townspeople when he showed up to investigate the crime, and his findings were quickly dismissed, virtually destroying Whicher's career and leaving the Kent household under a pall of suspicion.

But then the culprit confesses!

It's simply extraordinary. Unlike so many true crime stories, this one has all the answers (or at least most of them) delivered straight from the horse's mouth, which makes it shockingly satisfying and serves as the ideal template for a fictional novel.

Which is exactly when fictional detective novels took off! According to Summerscale, it was THIS murder and THIS detective that influenced author Wilkie Collins, whose 1871 mystery The Moonstone is reputed to be England's very first detective novel.

Summerscale also spends a great deal of time exploring the development of "detecting" in England, and shows how Mr Whicher and his ilk went on to inspire, not just Collins, but Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and, yes, my fave Agatha Christie.

I loved this book! I lapped up the true story and the background it gave on how detectives came to be. (Did you know: the word "clue" is derived from the Old English word for thread, "clew"?) It's those little tidbits that had me hooked.

It's not a new book, and is certainly not a breezy, easy read, but the information it provided and the resolution it contained made it so worthwhile, as did knowing that the young boy's death was not in vain. If it wasn't for little Saville, we might never have heard of a bloke called Sherlock or, later, Hercule, Columbo and Vera.

• For more on the book, head to your favourite retailer or check out the author's website: katesummerscale.com/

• To meet MY detectives and get embroiled in some modern-day "closed manor" mysteries, just search for my books at Amazon and wherever you buy your books online.

Happy detecting everyone.
xo Christina