Heavy Reserve Alert!

Accepted wisdom in publishing is that it’s best if publicity hits at once, ideally, right at pub date. After all, you can’t count on the public to be able to remember a title unless they hear it repeatedly in a short time frame.

But, occasionally, a long slow build is equally effective.

This seems to be the case for The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, a true crime story published in April, which just recently shot to #47 on Amazon’s bestseller list, nearly three months after publication.

Libraries are showing heavy reserves, as high as 10 to 1 in some places.

The book is the story of a historic Victorian murder that was the sensation of its time. It became the model for detective novels, including Wilkie Collins’s Moonstone and Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

So, for mystery fans, the book appeals on many levels. In addition, it reveals a great deal about the sociology of the time. This confluence of a mystery illuminating the issues of the day caused Library Journal to compare it to Devil in the White City.

As George Gibson, CEO of the book’s American publisher, Walker & Company, told Early Word, “mystery bloggers got onto this early and they’re a transatlantic group.” As buzz built in the U.K. where author Kate Summerscale is well-known, momentum began to grow here as well. In mid-April, Entertainment Weekly did a full-page review, (“A nonfiction history that moves with all the twists of a mystery novel,”), followed a couple of weeks later by a rave in Time magazine (“not just a dark, vicious true-crime story; it is the story of the birth of forensic science, founded on the new and disturbing idea that innocent, insignificant domestic details can reveal unspeakable horrors to those who know how to read them”). In early May, it was reviewed on NPR’s “Fresh Air“.

The book went onto the New York Times extended besteller list for one week at #34 in mid-May.

And then, last week, the book won the UK’s respected Samuel Johnson Prize which “celebrates diverse and thought-provoking writing in non-fiction.” Last week, Marilyn Stasio devoted her Crime column to it in the New York Times Book Review. It rose to  #47 on Amazon, which means it could very well reappear on print bestseller lists.

Walker says there are currently 40,000 copies in print.



A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective.

By Kate Summerscale.

  • Hardcover: $24.95
  • Publisher: Walker & Company (April 15, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0802715354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802715357

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