A true crime story receives a prestigious literary award

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The Victorian era is a rich, seemingly bottomless mine for writers: in science fiction, the authors known collectively as the Steampunks have tapped it for their fantasies; and many authors--such as Anne Perry, Will Thomas, G.H. Dahlquist and so many more--continually revisit that period for novels of mayhem and mystery.

Kate Summerscale’s “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher” was published earlier this year. It presented the true account of a child’s murder on a family’s estate and the efforts of investigators to find the perpetrator among the members of the household. In unfolding the story, the author gave readers the context of 19th century crime detection and the public’s fascination with that singular figure, the detective. Many papers reviewed it. The Siren’s Call reviewed it here for The Times. Now the book has been honored with the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction.

As part of the prize, Summerscale, a former literary editor of the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph, will receive more than $60,000. The 10-year-old prize was organized by the BBC. Summerscale’s book succeeded over finalists including Orlando Figes’ “The Whisperers’’ about Soviet Russia, Patrick French’s authorized biography of V.S. Naipaul, “The World Is What It Is” and New Yorker music critic Alex Ross’ survey of music from the last century, “The Rest Is Noise.’’