Page last updated at 19:29 GMT, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 20:29 UK

Murder tale scoops Johnson prize

The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerskill
The book was praised for mimicking the suspense genre

An analysis of an 1860 murder case that inspired writers including Charles Dickens has won BBC Four's Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.

The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher: Or The Murder At Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale beat five other shortlisted finalists to win the 30,000 prize.

The book brings back to life a Wiltshire murder which shocked Britain.

Speaking at London's Royal Festival Hall, chair of judges Rosie Boycott praised a "page-turning yarn".

"Kate Summerscale has brilliantly merged scrupulous archival research with vivid storytelling that reads with the pace of a Victorian thriller," she said.

"The book is a rare work of non-fiction that mimics the suspense genre and leaves one gripped until the final paragraph."

She said the officer in charge of the investigation, Jack Whicher, was painted as "a complex, shabby character who immediately conjures up images of the scruffy-looking LA cop, Columbo".

Kate Summerskill
Kate Summerscale also wrote bestseller The Queen of Whale Clay

She added: "The Road Hill murder case was to dominate newspaper headlines, caused national hysteria and inspired a generation of novelists from Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to Conan Doyle."

Kate Summerscale, who wrote the bestselling The Queen of Whale Clay - a biography of British eccentric speedboat racer Marion "Joe" Carstairs - is the 10th winner of the annual Samuel Johnson Prize.

Ms Boycott was joined on the judging panel by Guardian literary editor Claire Armitstead, Science Museum director Chris Rapley, poet Daljit Nagra and documentary maker Hannah Rothschild.

US journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran won the prize last year for Imperial Life In The Emerald City, an account of his time in Baghdad's Green Zone.

The other shortlisted titles this year were:

  • Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart - Tim Butcher
  • Crow Country - Mark Cocker
  • The Whisperers - Orlando Figes
  • The World Is What It Is: The Authorised Biography of VS Naipaul - Patrick French
  • The Rest is Noise - Alex Ross




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