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The Wicked Boy : The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer - Kate Summerscale

The Wicked Boy

The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

Paperback Published: 27th April 2016
ISBN: 9781408851159
Number Of Pages: 400

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Caroline Baum's Review

I’m a great fan of Summerscale’s meticulous British biographies- she has such a fastidious and beady eye for detail it’s as if she is looking at all the evidence through an extra sharp microscope. She combines her methodical analysis with real writerly flair when it comes to archival material, making it come alive in technicolour. The Queen of Whale Cay is a hoot and would make a marvellous film; The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is a fascinating true crime take on the classic murder mystery.

Now Summerscale tackles the case of a teenage boy, Robert Coombes, and his younger brother accused of the stabbing murder of their mother in 1895. The boys’ actions are not really the focus of Summerscale’s attention; they are not in dispute. Instead she gives us the social canvas in which the crime is committed and more importantly, how Robert’s circumstances contributed to his mental regression but also, more fascinatingly, following his sentencing, Summerscale takes us inside one of Britain’s most famous prison asylums, Broadmoor. Robert Coombes was the youngest inmate of this famous place by several years. Strangely enough, against all the odds, it was the making of him.

I won’t tell you what happens next as I don’t want to spoil the suspense of the story. Suffice to say it leads in a very unexpected direction and tells a powerful story of redemption that is moving and enlightening.


The gripping, fascinating account of a shocking murder case that sent late Victorian Britain into a frenzy, by the bestselling, multi-award-winning author of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Early in the morning of Monday 8 July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his twelve-year-old brother Nattie set out from their small, yellow brick terraced house in east London to watch a cricket match at Lord's. Their father had gone to sea the previous Friday, leaving the boys and their mother at home for the summer.

Over the next ten days Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning family valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside. During this time nobody saw or heard from their mother, though the boys told neighbours she was visiting relatives. As the sun beat down on the Coombes house, an awful smell began to emanate from the building.

When the police were finally called to investigate, what they found in one of the bedrooms sent the press into a frenzy of horror and alarm, and Robert and Nattie were swept up in a criminal trial that echoed the outrageous plots of the 'penny dreadful' novels that Robert loved to read.

In The Wicked Boy, Kate Summerscale has uncovered a fascinating true story of murder and morality - it is not just a meticulous examination of a shocking Victorian case, but also a compelling account of its aftermath, and of man's capacity to overcome the past.

About the Author

Kate Summerscale is the author of the number one bestselling The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, the Galaxy British Book of the Year Award, a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and adapted into a major ITV drama. Her first book, the bestselling The Queen of Whale Cay, won a Somerset Maugham award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread biography award. Her third book, Mrs Robinson's Disgrace, was a Sunday Times bestseller. Kate Summerscale was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2010. She lives in London.

Industry Reviews

No other writer could have made the Coombes case so fascinating and so vivid ... It would be impossible to read this dry-eyed -- Cressida Connelly * Spectator *
Her research is needle-sharp and her period detail richly atmospheric, but what is most heartening about this truly remarkable book is the story of real-life redemption that it brings to light -- John Carey * Sunday Times *
An extraordinary book which will stay with you -- Vanessa Berridge * Daily Express *
Gripping... Summerscale is an exquisite storyteller. She is judicious in her use of detail, subtle in her unspoken connections between the past and the present.... This is the story of one wicked boy, but it is also a plea for compassion and empathy -- Daisy Goodwin * The Times *
For her latest forensic investigation into the throttled passions of Victorian family life, Summerscale has moved forward 35 years to 1895 and turned away from the provincial bourgeois home to the working-class terraces of London's East End ... [a] fine account ... subtle and confident -- Kathryn Hughes * Guardian *
Unexpectedly touching... a fascinating account of a murder and its endless reverberations -- Craig Brown * Mail on Sunday *
As Kate Summerscale has proved before, she has a wonderfully sharp eye for stories which turn out not to be quite what they seem... a remarkably heartening story -- John Preston * Daily Mail *
Compelling... it gripped and stoked the national imagination, just as it surely will again -- Philippa Stockley * Evening Standard *
A work of social history that is as compassionate as it is absorbing... we almost feel we are wandering through these scenes ourselves -- Rebecca Gowers * The Oldie *
Ultimately, the narrative is an exploration of Victorian attitudes to juvenile crime, and this pacy slice of social history acts as both hawk-eyed prosecution and gentle defence -- Zoe Apostolides * Financial Times *
An absorbing account of fin-de-siecle Britain... [and] a powerful story about vulnerable and neglected children, both then and now -- Daisy Hay * Daily Telegraph *
It's a fascinating story and Summerscale tells it beautifully... [Her] sympathetic and intelligent study is full of social interest too. I can't imagine that it could have been done better -- Alan Massie * Scotsman *
The challenge, to which Ms Summerscale rises wonderfully well, is to sustain the reader's interest in him for the remaining 50-odd years of his life ... Evocative ... Through a mixture of serendipity and meticulous research, Ms Summerscale is able to add one final, heart-stopping twist * Economist *
Redemption comes twice in this account ... An extremely touching twist ... Scrupulous and occasionally startling -- Rachel Cooke * Observer *
Summerscale has performed a stunning post-mortem of "the horror" at number 35 ... Talk about bringing history alive * Sunday Express *
It is above all her skill in creating a context for the crime which makes The Wicked Boy so readable ... the sounds and smells of the East End docks, from which their father set sail, are evoked with particular vividness. More fascinating still are the ideas of the age ... An extraordinary tale of redemption * Tablet *
What makes this meticulously researched retelling so horribly readable is the vivid light Summerscale shines on the violent working-class world Coombes and his younger brother inhabited ... Terrific skill * Metro *
Brilliantly researched and compelling ... What starts as a disturbing tale of horror becomes a deeply moving story of courage and redemption * Irish Times *
Brilliantly researched study of a young Victorian murderer * Sunday Times Summer Reading *
Not just a tale of crime and moral panic, but one of redemption too * The Times Summer Reading *
Summerscale's account of the case is gripping but it's what happens after the trial that makes the book unexpectedly touching * Mail on Sunday *
As fascinating as any novel -- Val McDermid * Independent *
Kate Summerscale brings the same painstaking intensity to her description of the case and its aftermath in The Wicked Boy as she did to her bestselling The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. Summerscale's signature virtue is her attention to detail, crucial in any mystery, but here the question hanging over the case is not whodunit, but why. In following Robert's story to Broadmoor and beyond, she gives all the participants back their humanity -- David Horspool * Guardian, 'Book of the Year' *
Here the best-selling Suspicions of Mr Whicher author probes deep into the subsequent criminal case and Coombes' unlikely rehabilitation in a brilliantly atmospheric slice of Victorian true crime -- Book of the Year * Metro *
For Summerscale, who had such a hit with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, this material is a gift, and her riveting tale takes in everything from the penny dreadfuls of the day to conditions at Broadmoor. Once again the author proves a subtle pathologist, her scapel slicing away the skin of late-Victorian Britain to expose the sicknesses beneath -- Dominic Sandbrook * Sunday Times, 'Book of the Year' *
A gripping, beautifully told story of true-life Victorian crime * Reader's Digest *
A brilliant piece of literary detective work, which reads like a novel, but never loses sight of the human tragedy at its heart -- Jane Shilling * Daily Mail *
'a moving take on Victorian murder and redemption' * Sunday Times, Summer Reading *
A gripping account of another sensational case: that of 13-year-old Robert Coombs, who stabbed his mother to death in East London in 1895 ... The human dimension she brings to stories that were originally the Victorian equivalent of clickbait is one reason why Summerscale's books are so successful ... Affecting * Caroline Sanderson, Mslexia Magazine *

The Wicked Boy


It's history content about Broadmoor and life in London 100 years ago.

Munster, WA.


The Wicked Boy

5.0 1


ISBN: 9781408851159
ISBN-10: 1408851156
Audience: BAU
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 400
Published: 27th April 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 21.0 x 13.5  x 3.5
Weight (kg): 0.46
Edition Number: 1