The story of a murder case that gripped Victorian England won Britain’s richest nonfiction book prize Tuesday.
Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: Or the Murder at Road Hill House beat five other titles for the $60,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction.
Summerscale’s best-selling book tells the story of an 1860 child murder that tested the mettle of one of Scotland Yard’s first detectives and inspired writers including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle.
Named in honor of the 18th-century critic and lexicographer, the Samuel Johnson Prize is open to English-language books in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.
The other finalists were The World Is What It Is, Patrick French’s often unflattering biography of writer V.S. Naipaul; Mark Cocker’s bird book, Crow Country; Orlando Figes’ chronicle of Stalin’s Russia, The Whisperers; Blood River, Tim Butcher’s account of retracing the steps of Victorian explorer H.M. Stanley; and New Yorker music critic Alex Ross’ The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century.
Last year’s winner was Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, about life in Baghdad’s Green Zone.