Inspector Whicher, Sergeant Cuff, Mr. Holmes, Monsieur Poirot

Yesterday1)I started to write this on Christie’s birthday, but this behemoth could not be completed in one day. was Agatha Christie’s 124th birthday, so it seems appropriate to carry on with Wilkie Collins and Sensation Novels – how they developed into what we recognise as detective fiction.

So polish your magnifying glass, button up your Ulster, wax your moustache, and we shall travel back to Road, Somerset in 1860, to the scene of a real crime.

(Needless to say, this contains multiple spoilers).

The murder in Somerset – 1860

In 1860, three year old Francis Savile Kent was brutally murdered at Road Hill House in Somerset.2)Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder and Kate Summerscales’ The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher Or The Murder at Road Hill House are worth reading: Flanders, for an overview of Victorian attitudes towards crime and its impact on popular culture, and Summerscale for an in-depth exploration of the Road murder. You may not agree with Summerscale’s own deductions, but it is persuasively argued. ITV’s 2011 adaptation of Summerscales’ book is definitely worth watching, for Paddy Considine’s portrayal of the gruff detective, and the grimy Victorian world he inhabits. It was a crime that became a sensation – he was a member of a respectable middle class household, and the country was scandalised. It turned out that the family was not quite as respectable as it at first seemed, leading to the first suspect being Francis’ nursemaid, who was assumed to be having an affair with Francis’ father. When the local police came up with nothing (or at least, so they at first claimed), Inspector Jonathan Whicher was sent to the West Country by Scotland Yard. He was considered to be one of the sharpest detective brains in Britain, but even he was initially flummoxed. He suspected that Constance Kent, Francis’ sixteen year old sister, was the culprit, but he was frustrated by lack of evidence. His inability to solve the crime, through no fault of his own, damaged his reputation and he was pushed into semi-retirement.

Inspector Jonathan Whicher

Inspector Jonathan Whicher

After going into an Anglican convent in Belgium, Constance confessed her guilt in 1865. It was at her trial that Whicher’s suspicions were proved – an essential piece of evidence had been suppressed by the local police, decorously edited out. Whicher was proved correct, his reputation resurrected, and he was able to work as a private investigator of sorts.

It might seem odd that such a horrible crime (Francis’ body was unceremoniously shoved into a privy) should be one of the first links in a chain that finishes with David Suchet on tv wearing a finely-waxed false moustache (or perhaps, The Who blaring out while someone does something frankly impossible with DNA to identify a suspect), but this was no ordinary murder. While children in the 1840s were apparently poisoned in their hundreds for Burial Club money,3)I will explore this in a larger article on the Essex poison panic at some point. Suffice to say, there is little proof that any child was killed at all for Burial Club money (perhaps one or two but certainly not in the numbers the press declared), but it gave the chance for people to moralise on the behaviour of “the lower orders”. The 1840s are known as “the hungry ’40s” – it was presumably more comfortable for people to believe that the poor were murdering their own children with poison, rather than they had died from want of proper nutrition. they were working class – Francis Kent’s murder occurred at the heart of that most Victorian of institutions: the middle class family home. It is no coincidence that this happened at the same time as the first Sensation Novels were written – The Woman in White began its serialisation in 1859, but here was the real thing. All the fears and tensions of mid-19th century life, which found expression in Sensation Novels, seems to have been focused on the sad, gruesome death of a child.

From real-life murder to fictional theft

If you haven’t read The Moonstone, then a little bit of background: Rachel Verinder is bequeathed a rare, priceless diamond by a disgraced uncle and, only hours after it has been given to her on her birthday, the diamond is stolen. Sergeant Cuff is sent to crack the mystery, but he can’t, and it’s only a year later that the crime is solved. So… what elements from the Road Hill House murder does Collins borrow? Quite a few, it turns out. The Moonstone, the first novel he started after Constance Kent’s confession, contains many elements which he lifted from the real-life crime.4)Flanders points out that his previous novel, Armadale, was being serialised fro 1864-1866, and the latter portions of the novel, following Kent’s confession, bear comparison to the crime too, although not to the degree that The Moonstone does. But you’ll recognise them from other texts, because once Collins had taken the brutal murder of a child and transmuted it into the comparatively harmless crime of jewel theft (not that his novel is without untimely deaths), they became crime fiction tropes.

The crime at the country house:

The windows and doors of Road Hill House had been fastened from inside the house the night before Francis was discovered murdered. This of course means that someone inside the house (family or staff) must have committed the murder.  And in The Moonstone, the diamond is stolen from the Verinder’s large country house, which had been locked from within overnight – whoever stole it had to be in the house that night.

Think now of the number of Agatha Christie novels where various characters are gathered together in a country house, murder occurs, and someone in the house must be the culprit. There are variations on this, such as Murder on the Orient Express (must’ve been someone on the train), Death on the Nile (must’ve been someone on the boat) and Cat Among The Pigeons (must’ve been someone in the school). Other Golden Age writers borrowed it too, so that the closeted world of Oxbridge colleges appear in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night and Michael Innes’ Death at the President’s Lodging. It’s a convenient device to narrow down the field of suspects, but in the Kent murder case, this is what actually happened. It is perhaps the biggest influence that the Kent case had on detective fiction.

But I have often felt that there is something symbollic about these crimes being committed at “the big house”, which perhaps goes all the way back to Gothic fiction, which Sensation Novels come from via novels like Jane Eyre. It may even be this which contributed to the Road murder catching the public imagination, and why the “crime at the country house” took off as a crime fiction trope.

Golden Age detective novels, coming hot on the heels of the mass slaughter of WW1, provided a psychologically satisfying way to neatly and logically tidy away death. It may start with someone’s skull being staved in by being bashed over the head with a brass statuette of a Spaniel, but the violence is done off-stage, mostly – a body is discovered, but the blood and gore is almost incidental. Quite often, the victim ‘had it coming to them’, having transgressed the rules of their society somehow, and their violent death has happened for a reason. Life is sent into flux for a while, but once the bad apple has been removed (sometimes Christie’s murderers take their own lives or end up accidentally being shot – a neat solution to ensure justice is done without the risk of them being let off by a judge on a technicality), life can go on. Unlike real life, with its hopelessly messy and senseless crimes, the Golden Age detective novel satisfies like a completed crossword.

The “country house” is in some ways a microcosm of society itself – especially in The Moonstone and in Christie’s novels where the household includes the gentry (the family), the middle class (less well-off family or friends) and the working class (the servants). Note how it’s usually the middle and upper class who are the culprits – there is perhaps an element of Schadenfruede in the chaos and violence temporarily reigning at “the big house”.

The ace detective:

Reading The Moonstone and expecting it to read like a Holmes or a Poirot can only, I’m afraid, lead to disappointment. Unlike standard detective novels, in some senses The Moonstone isn’t a detective novel at all, because Cuff is not the main character, although Christie experiments in her novels with the amount of “on-screen time” that Poirot gets (indeed, Miss Marple is quite often off-stage in her novels). However, Sergeant Cuff, the literary embodiment of Inspector Whicher, is worth reading as an early example of a fictional detective, the grandfather of Mr. Holmes and Monsieur Poirot.5)Poirot owes a lot to Holmes. There are obvious parallels between Cuff and Whicher :

  • He’s seen as one of the best detective minds in the country.
  • He’s working class.
  • He’s the son of a market gardener. A rather odd parallel, yes, but noticeable nonetheless. Collins uses this to great effect by having Cuff argue with the Verinders’ gardener about the best way to grow roses. After failing to find the diamond, he retires to grow roses, which Conan Doyle seems to riff on by sending Holmes into retirement to keep bees.
  • He is preoccupied with thought and has a rather direct manner which is mistaken for rudeness.
  • He doesn’t solve the crime at once – there is a five year gap between the murder and Constance Kent’s confession, and one year between the loss of the diamond and the novel’s resolution in The Moonstone.

The parallels end when we consider Cuff’s physical description:

…a grizzled, elderly man, so miserably lean that he looked as if he had not got an ounce of flesh on his bones in any part of him. He was dressed all in decent black, with a white cravat round his neck. His face was as sharp as a hatchet, and the skin of it was as yellow and dry and withered as an autumn leaf. His eyes, of a steely light grey, had a very disconcerting trick, when they encountered your eyes, of looking as if they expected something more from you than you were aware of yourself. His walk was soft; his voice was melancholy; his long lanky fingers were hooked like claws. He might have been a parson, or an undertaker—or anything else you like, except what he really was. A more complete opposite to Superintendent Seegrave [the local policeman] than Sergeant Cuff, and a less comforting officer to look at, for a family in distress. (Chapter XII)

Cuff discusses roses.

Cuff discusses roses.

Charles Dickens, a friend of Collins’, had met Whicher, and described him as being “shorter and thicker set” than the other officers. Cuff seems, in a very odd way, to pre-empt Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but I wonder who else Collins had in mind for his depiction of Cuff. Perhaps he needed Cuff to be ‘elderly’ so that he could plausibly retire, rather than force him out of his job in disgrace, as poor Whicher had been.6)Although reader beware – sometimes Collins describes women in their forties as ‘elderly’. The physical description of Cuff seems closer to that of Holmes:

His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination. His hands were invariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments. (A Study in Scarlet, chapter 2).

But I suppose a certain family resemblance isn’t surprising in two people who are obviously related to one another.

The 1972 television adaptation of The Moonstone apparently acknowledges Conan Doyle’s debt to Sergeant Cuff by having Cuff arrive in the last episode wearing an Ulster – this is the overcoat we associate with Holmes,7)Tweed overcoat with a cape attached over the top. The Inverness cape is very similar. and was mentioned in some of Conan Doyle’s stories. It has to be said though that Cuff is only one of several puzzle-pieces that went to build Holmes – Conan Doyle himself said he was based on Dr. Joseph Bell, who taught him at Edinburgh, and wore an Ulster. Ironically, when Bell was approached to solve a crime in 1892, his assistant was called Dr. Watson.

Dr. Joseph Bell, who inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes. Although the hat needed work.

Dr. Joseph Bell, who inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes. Although the hat needed work.

Whicher and Cuff both came from working class backgrounds, which made it hard for Whicher when faced with a crime in a gentleman’s house – the Kent’s solicitor portrayed him as “a presumptuous working class meddler.”8)Flanders, pp. 366. A similar difficulty hovers over Cuff in the Verinder’s home – he openly suspects Rachel of having stolen her own diamond, much to the shock of everyone (the ‘young lady’ being accused is of course a direct link with Road). Holmes, an independently wealthy gentleman (although not so wealthy that he couldn’t manage without a flatmate), could move almost seamlessly amongst the well-to-do, however, his eccentricities and sharp manners still mark him as an outsider. Vide Jeremy Brett leaping over a sofa….

Poirot tries to retire to the countryside and even attempts to grow cabbages, a reference to Cuff and Holmes’ retirements, but he misses the city. Like Whicher and Cuff, Poirot had been a policeman, a celebrated one, we are told (mostly by him!), and, presumably coming from a working class background, he is able to mix with people from different social strata because he is a celebrity. The joy of David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot (one of several) was how nice he was, and how kind he was to servants who were otherwise treated with contemptuous indifference by others. Of course, such kindness was important to win over potential witnesses, but when Curtain was aired, I felt like I’d lost an affectionate uncle. 9)Hurrah for ITV’s repeats. Being a Belgian in Britain, he is always an outsider – Christie’s inspiration for him was partly the Belgian refugees she saw in Britain during The Great War.

Everyone’s a suspect:

There were two main theories as to who had committed the Kent murder – that it was Francis’ nursemaid and a male accomplice (possibly his father – the idea being the child had surprised them in bed together), or Constance. But other theories were entertained – maybe it was a local with a grudge?

The Moonstone has evidence to point at everyone. Initially, all the servants are under suspicion, and the butler’s daughter, Penelope, becomes a suspect for taking umbrage at the local policeman’s treatment of the servants. This shifts to the tragic Rosanna Spearman, both from her suspicious behaviour and her past life (which Collins never explicitly describes, but which involved her being a thief), and it seems as if she and Rachel Verinder have worked in concert – Cuff leaves the scene thinking it was Rachel, although later, he claims that he knew all along that it had been Godfrey Ablewhite who took the diamond to London.

This idea is developed in the Golden Age of detective fiction so that so many clues abound which identify everyone as a possible suspect, that it gets very hard to have any idea who really did it. A well-written novel from this period will carefully plot to make each person a suspect in turn – a poorly-written one flings clues at the reader in a confused fashion, as if the writer themselves didn’t know who the culprit was until the last page either.

Behind the respectable façade:

Initially, the murder of Francis Kent seemed an horrific aberration – an act of unthinkable violence occurring in the safe environment of a respectable middle class home – but Road Hill House wore a façade. Samuel Kent, the father, had been married before – his current wife, Francis’ mother, had been the family’s nursemaid, and this fact seems to have driven the allegation that he was having an affair with Francis’ nursemaid. Constance seemed to occupy a lowly position in the family hierarchy – her nightdress could be easily identified because unlike those of her elder sisters’, Constance’s was plain, without the ruffles and lace of more elaborate gowns. The children from Samuel Kent’s first marriage were relegated to the smaller, less well-appointed rooms in the house, and Francis’ murder came just before the birth of her step-mother’s next child, which perhaps pushed Constance’s jealousy further. She appears to have felt guilt over how she behaved towards her late mother, as she had been close to the woman who would become her step-mother.10)Summerscale explores this aspect in depth, in looking for Constance’s motive. Her mother had suffered from mental illness (perhaps post-natal depression – if she was susceptible to it, then having pregnancies one after the other may have caused her unbearable mental anguish. It was her ‘insanity’ which commentators assumed Constance had herself inherited, driving her to commit her crime). Kent was not popular in their locale, as a factory inspector who insisted children went to school, thus affecting families’ incomes – and it also seemed that he was living in a grander style than his pocket could support. Constance was so unhappy that, before (as she claimed) killing her own brother, she had tried to run away, disguised as a boy.

Facades were already central to Sensation Novels, of course. Collins’ first recognisably “Sensation”-style novel was Basil (1852), where an impetuous upper class man falls in love with the daughter of a prosperous shopkeeper, only to find out he has been hoodwinked, but his next, Hide & Seek (1854) involved the reader in hunting after clues and showed the secrets behind a respectable front door. The Dead Secret (1856) again involves duplicity, and contains Gothic themes such as locked rooms in ancient houses.11)There are many parallels between the locked rooms in The Dead Secret and Sir Percival Glyde’s house in The Woman in White – Collins was recycling what he clearly thought was a good idea. In The Moonstone, we discover that, lurking behind the respectable façade of Godfrey Ablewhite, selfless supporter of many charitable works, he had a kept woman, and had embezzled money held in trust, for which he was an executor.

And no detective novel would be complete without devilry going on behind an respectable façades – be it Ablewhite-style embezzlement, forged identity, past sins, or immorality. Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly is an example – George Stubbs is not who he says he is, and neither is wife, and he has committed a murder to secure the fortune of the woman his wife pretended to be. Jack Stapleton in Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is another – outwardly a bookish butterfly collector, but in reality a murderer who will kill for money.

Servants know all:

There was a great deal of tension surrounding the position of servants in the Victorian period – that they lived under the same roof, but had to be treated as somehow separate and lowly. They could watch the comings and goings of the family, and know more about the family than the family did themselves. It is for this reason that servants play a large part in detective novels as witnesses, and Gosford Park took this further by turning Kelly Macdonald’s character, Mary MacEachran, into a prototype Miss Marple. It’s a shame that Julian Fellowes pushed on from Gosford Park to Downton Abbey – I would have liked to see someone do more with Mary MacEachran. She could’ve had her own tv series, solving crimes whilst deconstructing Golden Age Detective Fiction.12)Although saying that, we have a crime-cracking housekeeper in The 4.50 From Paddington….

The accusation of Francis Kent’s nursemaid (she is a forgotten figure next to Whicher – her reputation was spoiled perhaps even more, as the idea that she had an affair with her employer was hard to quash and her moral reputation was irreparably damaged) finds its echo in the accusation of Penelope and Rosanna Spearman in The Moonstone. But like the servants who were to follow in later detective fiction, Rosanna knew all – well, almost all. She held an important clue….

The missing, stained nightgown

Whicher knew he was missing a crucial piece of evidence. He knew that whoever in the Kent household had killed Francis would have been covered in blood, and he knew that a nightgown was missing. So desperate was he to find it, that he ordered the pit under the servants’ privy, where poor Francis had been found, to be dredged to find it.13)Considering that Francis’ mother had been a servant, there is perhaps a psychological aspect to him being disposed of in the servants’ privy by Constance (if that’s who his killer was). But without luck. Finally, at the trial following Constance’s confession, it turned out that the stained nightgown had been found by the local police, but its existence was politely ignored – it was assumed that the blood was in fact menstrual fluid, certainly not something that could be publicly discussed, especially not when it belonged to the upper classes. It was a plain nightgown, and that very fact identified it as belonging to Constance.

Just as Collins turns the brutal murder of a child into the relatively harmless theft of a diamond, he turned the blood-soaked nightgown into a paint-smeared nightshirt. The first clue Cuff alights on is the smudged paintwork on the door of Rachel’s sitting room, which, after working out the time the paint took to dry, he knows will point to the thief. But he cannot find the nightshirt, because Rosanna, hopelessly in love with Franklin Blake, has hidden it. Once the stained nightshirt is found, the resolution of the mystery can proceed.

Much was made during the Road Hill House investigation about the laundry book (to identify the missing nightgown), and the laundry book pops up again in The Moonstone. Even the fact that it is a plain nightgown is referenced by Collins’, but Rosanna so quickly running up an identical nightshirt for Franklin Blake to replace his stained one is rather implausible.

The mysterious incident of the dog in the nighttime:

The dogs at Road Hill House didn’t bark loudly on the night of the murder, which was taken to mean that no-one approached the house who was a stranger to them. However, they were heard to make some noise.

In The Moonstone, the dogs are used to illustrate that the crime must have been done by someone inside the house:

But how had the thief contrived to make his escape from the house? I had found the front door locked and bolted, as I had left it at night, when I went to open it, after getting up. As for the other doors and windows, there they were still, all safe and fast, to speak for themselves. The dogs, too? Suppose the thief had got away by dropping from one of the upper windows, how had he escaped the dogs? (Chapter XI)

However, in Silver Blaze, the dog makes no sound at all, which is the clue Holmes pounces on to demonstrate that the crime was an inside job – the dog knew the culprit. Unfortunately, reality could not present so neat a clue, and to be honest, dogs are likely to bark on seeing someone they know anyway.

The narrator did it:

It’s an unsettling moment in The Moonstone when, after the reader has been passed from Gabriel Betteredge, the butler, to interfering evangelical Miss Clack, we find ourselves with Franklin Blake as our narrator, and he discovers that Rachel witnessed him steal the diamond – albeit without him being consciously aware of having done so. It’s very ingenious and still shocks as much as it would’ve done for the novel’s first audience.

But an unwritten rule of Golden Era detective fiction was that the narrator couldn’t be the culprit. When Agatha Christie wrote The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, at the end we discover that Dr. James Shepherd, our narrator, has, in fact, committed the murder. This was seen as an astounding plot-twist which no reader expected, as used as they were to good ol’ Watson and Hastings narrating the annals of crime. But why was this so surprising when Collins had used this device himself in one of the first detective novels?

“The boy – being a boy – passed unnoticed.”

The Baker Street Irregulars are a well-known facet of the Holmseian universe, street urchins who Holmes uses as his eyes on the ground, who can go unnoticed through the streets and act as his spies. They first appear in A Study in Scarlet, and appear again in The Sign of Four, where Holmes sends them to track down the ship used by the jewel thieves/murderers.

It’s a clever idea, but the Irregulars have their ancestor within the pages of The Moonstone in the shape of Octavius Guy, known as ‘Gooseberry’. Gooseberry was sent off by Brough, the solicitor, to follow suspects, and is so-called because he has large, prominent eyes – all the better to spy on you with. Cuff is very impressed with the boy:

“One of these days,” said the Sergeant, pointing through the front window of the cab, “that boy will do great things in my late profession. He is the brightest and cleverest little chap I have met with, for many a long year past.”

Locked-room mystery:

Another classic detective trope, related to the country house being locked down, perhaps, is the locked-room mystery. It first appears in crime fiction in Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and is ingenious in presenting the reader with a puzzle to wonder over. 

Towards the end of The Moonstone, Franklin Blake, Sergeant Cuff and Gooseberry burst their way into the locked bedroom at an inn where the man seen to be given The Moonstone by Septimus Luker is known to be. He is found murdered, the surmise being that his murderers entered through the skylight and escaped the same way with the diamond. Collins had used the device before in Armadale, where Miss Gwilt attempts to murder Alan Armadale in a locked room, using poisoned gas (carbon monoxide, presumably).

We see Conan Doyle use a similar mode of entry and escape in his locked-room mystery in The Sign of Four, and The Moonstone seems to have been a significant influence on The Sign of Four, perhaps the link being that they are tales about stolen Indian jewels. There is nearly a chase sequence by boat in The Moonstone, but Godfrey Ablewhite is murdered before he can set sail.

Disguise:

Not that it was used in the Road Hill House murder itself, however, it was discovered that Constance, a few years before, had tried to escape the unhappy household she lived in by cutting off her hair (and throwing the trimmed ends down the privy) to disguise herself as a boy. She borrowed her brother’s clothes and they tried to run away.

Disguise appears throughout literature (we could even go back into the Bible for numerous examples – such as Jacob putting fur on his arms to convince his blind father that he is, in fact, his hairy brother, Esau). Sherlock Holmes is particularly fond of disguise, even Poirot engages in it sometimes (he dresses as a plumber in “The Chocolate Box”), and we find disguise in The Moonstone: it’s not until Cuff wipes the brown paint off the dead sailor’s face that Franklin Blake realises the culprit was Godfrey Ablewhite. Yes, Blake had taken the diamond from the cabinet Rachel had put it in, but only out of concern for its safety, clouded by laudanum. He had no idea he was doing it, but Ablewhite knew very well what he was doing, and saw a way out of his severe financial predicament.

And so…

Well this turned out to be far longer than I expected. I hope you read this far before being overtaken by yawning. Perhaps trying to fit all this into one blog post was a little adventurous… but it’s my blog and I’ll waffle if I want to.

You may wonder what on earth this has to do with genealogy or Essex or Suffolk (I could point out that some of the action in Collins’ No Name takes place in Aldeburgh in Suffolk, which means I could digress into M. R. James territory, reminding you that detective fiction ultimately has its roots in the Gothic, or that Elizabeth Mary Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret may have something to do with Audley End House in Essex – I visited it and discovered that ha-has presumably got their name because it’s very easy to accidentally tumble into them). Well… I shall tell you.

When I was a child, I lived in the same village as Miss Marple. Really – I lived in Wivenhoe, where Joan Hickson also lived. At the time, she was filming Miss Marple for the Beeb, and it was very odd to walk through the village, and see Miss Marple coming towards you along the pavement. Very odd indeed….

Miss Marple's house. Conveniently located opposite the fish 'n' chip shop.

Miss Marple’s house. Conveniently located opposite the fish ‘n’ chip shop.

   

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I started to write this on Christie’s birthday, but this behemoth could not be completed in one day.
2. Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder and Kate Summerscales’ The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher Or The Murder at Road Hill House are worth reading: Flanders, for an overview of Victorian attitudes towards crime and its impact on popular culture, and Summerscale for an in-depth exploration of the Road murder. You may not agree with Summerscale’s own deductions, but it is persuasively argued. ITV’s 2011 adaptation of Summerscales’ book is definitely worth watching, for Paddy Considine’s portrayal of the gruff detective, and the grimy Victorian world he inhabits.
3. I will explore this in a larger article on the Essex poison panic at some point. Suffice to say, there is little proof that any child was killed at all for Burial Club money (perhaps one or two but certainly not in the numbers the press declared), but it gave the chance for people to moralise on the behaviour of “the lower orders”. The 1840s are known as “the hungry ’40s” – it was presumably more comfortable for people to believe that the poor were murdering their own children with poison, rather than they had died from want of proper nutrition.
4. Flanders points out that his previous novel, Armadale, was being serialised fro 1864-1866, and the latter portions of the novel, following Kent’s confession, bear comparison to the crime too, although not to the degree that The Moonstone does.
5. Poirot owes a lot to Holmes.
6. Although reader beware – sometimes Collins describes women in their forties as ‘elderly’.
7. Tweed overcoat with a cape attached over the top. The Inverness cape is very similar.
8. Flanders, pp. 366.
9. Hurrah for ITV’s repeats.
10. Summerscale explores this aspect in depth, in looking for Constance’s motive.
11. There are many parallels between the locked rooms in The Dead Secret and Sir Percival Glyde’s house in The Woman in White – Collins was recycling what he clearly thought was a good idea.
12. Although saying that, we have a crime-cracking housekeeper in The 4.50 From Paddington….
13. Considering that Francis’ mother had been a servant, there is perhaps a psychological aspect to him being disposed of in the servants’ privy by Constance (if that’s who his killer was).