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The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

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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, the boys told their neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next ten 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, the boys told their neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next ten days Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning their parents' valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside. But as the sun beat down on the Coombes house, a strange smell began to emanate from the building. When the police were finally called to investigate, the discovery they made 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.


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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, the boys told their neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next ten 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, the boys told their neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next ten days Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning their parents' valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside. But as the sun beat down on the Coombes house, a strange smell began to emanate from the building. When the police were finally called to investigate, the discovery they made 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.

30 review for The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

  1. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    In 1895 Robert Coombes (aged 13) stabbed his mother to death and calmly went on living in the house with his brother Nathaniel (12) having days out at the cricket and living on money stolen from his mother. His father was away at sea and Robert told nosy neighbours that his mother had gone to Liverpool to visit a sick relative. Eventually, some 10 days later a nasty smell led a suspicious aunt to discover the body and Robert freely confessed to the murder. This little gem of a book is not so muc In 1895 Robert Coombes (aged 13) stabbed his mother to death and calmly went on living in the house with his brother Nathaniel (12) having days out at the cricket and living on money stolen from his mother. His father was away at sea and Robert told nosy neighbours that his mother had gone to Liverpool to visit a sick relative. Eventually, some 10 days later a nasty smell led a suspicious aunt to discover the body and Robert freely confessed to the murder. This little gem of a book is not so much about the trial and scandal that followed in the Victorian press but more about the young murderer at the centre of the story. The author has carried out meticulous research about the life and times of Robert and his family as well as the trial that ensued. Although we never really fond out why Robert killed his mother, her beatings of his younger brother and Robert's love of reading 'penny dreadfuls' (comics full of stories of adventure and daring deeds) were heavily implicated. Luckily for Robert he was judged to be insane and sentenced to Broadmoor where he spent the next 17 years being a model patient, joining the cricket team, playing chess by correspondence, learning to play the cornet, piano and violin and joining the brass band. He also worked in the tailor's shop where he learnt to make clothing for the inmates. Again there is meticulous research and details about the nature of Broadmoor, the various Superintendents and other inmates in Robert's section and the treatment of mental illness at the time. For me as an Australian, one of the unexpected delights of this book was the account of what happened next to Robert, the so called 'wicked boy'. After some time at a Salvation Army Farm, Robert travelled to Australia, where he later volunteered to serve with the Australian Army and was one of only 7000 men to serve for the whole of WWI. He won medals for his bravery and service as a stretcher bearer at Gallipoli and later as a hygiene officer at the Somme. After the war, he settled on the NSW coast near Coffs Harbour, where the author travelled to meet people who had known him and uncovered yet another remarkable story about this man who started off life so badly as a boy. This was a fascinating account not only of the treatment of a child murderer in Victorian times, but the capacity of such a child to be rehabilitated and go on to lead a worthy life. With thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Bloomsbury Publishing for an e-copy of the book to read and review

  2. 5 out of 5

    Fran

    Summer 1895. In the working-class East End of London, Robert Coombes has stabbed his mother. Robert,14 years old, claims that his mother Emily beat his younger brother Mattie for stealing food. Emily has been stabbed to death in her upstairs bedroom but Robert creates a web of lies and deceptions to account for Emily's absence. Robert's seafaring father, away for long periods of time, is unaware of the crime. With the help of a dim witted guardian, the boys manage to live the good life visiting c Summer 1895. In the working-class East End of London, Robert Coombes has stabbed his mother. Robert,14 years old, claims that his mother Emily beat his younger brother Mattie for stealing food. Emily has been stabbed to death in her upstairs bedroom but Robert creates a web of lies and deceptions to account for Emily's absence. Robert's seafaring father, away for long periods of time, is unaware of the crime. With the help of a dim witted guardian, the boys manage to live the good life visiting cricket matches and the theater by pawning family items while Emily's body is decomposing. After 10 days, Emily's sister no longer believes she is visiting family in Liverpool and demands access to the Coombes residence. Greeted by a putrefying stench, Emily's maggot eaten corpse is discovered. A trial at the Old Bailey ensues and Robert is found guilty of matricide. Neither the prosecution nor defense can determine a motive for the murder. Robert appears to be insane and is sent to the Broadmoor asylum. The humane treatment he receives there enables him to learn tailoring, gardening, and above all, human kindness which changes the trajectory of his life. Kudos to Kate Summerscale for enlightening us about Victorian forensics and the diagnoses of insanity in late Victorian-era London. Could reading "penny dreadfuls" have caused the crime? Since Emily Coomes had outbursts of excitability would her progeny be even more mentally unbalanced? Summerscale thoroughly researched this true crime Victorian mystery. A masterful book I absolutely recommend! Notes Thank you Penguin Press and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "The Wicked Boy".

  3. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I really enjoyed Kate Summerscale’s previous books, so I was pleased to get the chance to review her latest, “The Wicked Boy.” Subtitled, “The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer,” much of the book took place in Plaistow (coincidentally, the place I lived as a child) and so this book resonated even more with me as I knew all the places mentioned. This begins on a hot July day in 1895. Two brothers, Robert Coombes (13) and his brother, Nathaniel ‘Nattie’ (12) are home with their mother. Their fa I really enjoyed Kate Summerscale’s previous books, so I was pleased to get the chance to review her latest, “The Wicked Boy.” Subtitled, “The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer,” much of the book took place in Plaistow (coincidentally, the place I lived as a child) and so this book resonated even more with me as I knew all the places mentioned. This begins on a hot July day in 1895. Two brothers, Robert Coombes (13) and his brother, Nathaniel ‘Nattie’ (12) are home with their mother. Their father, a ship steward, is on his way across the Atlantic going to New York. It appears to neighbours, and relatives, that things are not well at the family home. Robert and Nattie seem to be spending a lot of money and there is no sign of their mother, Emily. The boys involve a friend of their fathers, John Fox, to pawn some items in the house but, eventually, a terrible smell leads to investigation and the body of their mother is discovered, murdered, in her bedroom. Gradually, we discover what happened before this gruesome discovery and then the trial as it unfolds. Robert is the ‘Wicked Boy’ of the title and much of the blame for his crime is, initially, blamed on the ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ he loved to read. These trashy, cheap adventure stories were the computer games of their day – blamed for all sorts of delinquent behaviour. What was interesting to me, though, was how progressively Robert was actually treated once he had been tried. Although there was no real way of separating child criminals from adults, it was obvious that once he was in the system, there were attempts to rehabilitate and care for him. This is also an account of Robert Coombe’s life after the murder and of what happened to him. It is an interesting read and also – despite the subject matter – an uplifting one. The author scatters the book with fascinating glimpses of other crimes and criminals, that occurred at around the same time and tells the story of psychiatry and how those with mental illness were treated. If you enjoyed Summerscale’s earlier books, or enjoy historical true crime, then you will probably also find this a good read. Lastly, I received a copy of the book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    Nice little nonfiction book. It's main point deals with the sentencing of a boy of 13 for the murder of his mother , this is a real case. The first half of the book deals with all intricacies of the case, the before, the middle and the trial. The other half of the book deals with the after for both of the brothers (the main characters are 2 brothers, only one is sentenced) and how their lives affected everyone around them. The reason I gave the book 3 stars is because while this book is well res Nice little nonfiction book. It's main point deals with the sentencing of a boy of 13 for the murder of his mother , this is a real case. The first half of the book deals with all intricacies of the case, the before, the middle and the trial. The other half of the book deals with the after for both of the brothers (the main characters are 2 brothers, only one is sentenced) and how their lives affected everyone around them. The reason I gave the book 3 stars is because while this book is well researched and nicely written, it lacks purpose , I thought originally this would be a book that advocated for children's rights and their being abused during Victorian times , this was not the case, then I thought this could be a book where psychopathy was discussed or at least criminal intent, this was also not the case. This book isolates the case it discussed and doesn't seem to want to do more than that. There is a bit amount of overload of information and meticulous research into the background of each of every minor character introduced as the trial goes on, in a book without purpose these biographies seem to be just filling . This book aspires to nothing but just to be about the case it presents, and judging from that singular perspective it succeeds.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    Not as good as her earlier true-life Victorian murder mystery, The Suspicions of Mr.Whicher, but quite compelling.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    A fascinating true account of thirteen year old Robert Coombes who murdered he’s mother in the summer of 1895. The book follows he’s trial subsequent life after these events. I practically liked how Summerscale transports the reader to that period in history, as for 10 days prior to the discovery of the body Robert and younger brother Nattie went on a spending spree. Everything from the pre-decimal currency to the boys trip to Lords for the cricket is well explained. I felt like I’d learnt a lot abo A fascinating true account of thirteen year old Robert Coombes who murdered he’s mother in the summer of 1895. The book follows he’s trial subsequent life after these events. I practically liked how Summerscale transports the reader to that period in history, as for 10 days prior to the discovery of the body Robert and younger brother Nattie went on a spending spree. Everything from the pre-decimal currency to the boys trip to Lords for the cricket is well explained. I felt like I’d learnt a lot about the Victorian justice system too.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    A shocking story of a child who commited a horrific crime, his life in prison, and an unlikely journey to redemption.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    In East London in the summer of 1895 13-year-old Robert Coombes murdered his mother. His guilt was never in question, and he never denied the charges when the death was eventually discovered. For ten days after the murder, his mother's body lay rotting in the summer heat in an upstairs bedroom, whilst Robert, his younger brother Nattie and a simple-minded colleague of his father's whom Robert conned into taking care of the boys in their mother's 'absence', went to watch cricket at Lord's, to the In East London in the summer of 1895 13-year-old Robert Coombes murdered his mother. His guilt was never in question, and he never denied the charges when the death was eventually discovered. For ten days after the murder, his mother's body lay rotting in the summer heat in an upstairs bedroom, whilst Robert, his younger brother Nattie and a simple-minded colleague of his father's whom Robert conned into taking care of the boys in their mother's 'absence', went to watch cricket at Lord's, to the seaside, coffee shops and the park, played cards and other games. Family members soon grew suspicious, and the crime was eventually uncovered. To say more of the events that took place would spoil readers' enjoyment, no doubt, so I will refrain, and simply say that only the first half of this book concerns the murder and Robert's trial. Child murderers are always of interest - the dichotomy between such an abhorrent act and the perceived 'innocence' of childhood, no doubt - and a young boy who kills his mother and then acts with such cool unconcern in the aftermath all the more so. Yet I found this book disappointing, for all that. I've read and thoroughly enjoyed both of Kate Summerscale's previous books, 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' and 'Mrs Robinson's Disgrace', but this one seems to lack depth in comparison. It felt very cursory, degenerating on many pages to little more than a 'he said/they said/he said' recitation of the trial records. At no point did I ever feel enthralled in the tale and none of the personalities involved ever felt more than potted characters on the page. Perhaps that was because there was no 'whodunnit' aspect to the case; perhaps because the trial lawyers never sought to determine Robert's motive; perhaps because there is no extant record of Robert's thoughts, impulses or feelings after the trial or throughout his subsequent life - whatever the reason, Robert himself remained very much a cipher in these pages, impossible to understand or empathise with. As I said, at no point reading this book did I ever feel that there was any depth to the words on the page - it read as very much a 'this happened and then that happened and then he said this and she said that', and quite frankly I got bored. It took me less than a day to read this book, not because I was unable to put it down, but because it was such a light, cursory read it took no time at all to rattle through. I can only hope Kate Summerscale's next book reflects 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' or 'Mrs Robinson's Disgrace', and not this one.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Petra

    This story chronicles the life of Robert Coombes from his 13th year and his involvement in the murder of his mother. It's well researched, interesting to read and touches on some interesting concepts of psychology and behavior that were just beginning to be documented/researched in the 1890s. It all comes together for an engaging read. However, I never got to really know these characters and the concepts touched upon were just that....touched upon. The connection between the concept and this par This story chronicles the life of Robert Coombes from his 13th year and his involvement in the murder of his mother. It's well researched, interesting to read and touches on some interesting concepts of psychology and behavior that were just beginning to be documented/researched in the 1890s. It all comes together for an engaging read. However, I never got to really know these characters and the concepts touched upon were just that....touched upon. The connection between the concept and this particular case is often nebulous. I came away without a clear reason for this child to kill his mother. There are a couple of hints at what may have been the cause but they didn't seem drastic enough to cause a killing and never do we hear Robert's words on the matter. It may be that he never spoke them but that makes the case more curious yet. The asylum was interesting. It was like a well-run hotel. Surprising. An interesting read and one I'm glad I picked up yet not one of true connectivity. Note of interest: 1. In 1895, the "penny dreadfuls" were considered as dangerous to a young minds as violent video games are for young minds today. Both have the ability to turn young people into killers because they cannot distinguish between real life killings and book/game killings. (things don't change much over the generations, it seems) 2. James Joyce was born in the same year as Robert Coombes, also read penny dreadfuls & enjoyed liked them.....at least he wrote a story (An Encounter) stating so.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    Boys will be boys... For ten days in the summer of July 1895, two boys spent their time roaming round coffee shops and attending cricket matches, and telling anyone who asked that their mother had gone to visit relatives in Liverpool. They slept downstairs in the back parlour of their house, with a family friend who had come at their request to look after them. Meantime, an unpleasant smell was beginning to seep from the house, becoming so bad eventually that the neighbours complained to the boys Boys will be boys... For ten days in the summer of July 1895, two boys spent their time roaming round coffee shops and attending cricket matches, and telling anyone who asked that their mother had gone to visit relatives in Liverpool. They slept downstairs in the back parlour of their house, with a family friend who had come at their request to look after them. Meantime, an unpleasant smell was beginning to seep from the house, becoming so bad eventually that the neighbours complained to the boys' aunt. When she forced her way into the house, she discovered the badly decomposed body of the boys' mother, and immediately young Robert Coombes admitted to having stabbed her to death. This is a chilling but fascinating true crime story from the end of the Victorian era. Robert Coombes was thirteen at the time of the murder and his brother Nattie was twelve. The idea of the matricide itself horrified contemporary society enough, but it was the cool behaviour of the boys over the following ten days that made the crime seem even more shocking. Evidence showed that the murder was planned – Robert had bought the knife specially a few days earlier, and he later claimed that he and Nattie had arranged a signal for when the deed should be done. The first part of the book concentrates on the crime and the trial procedures and Summerscale covers these with her usual excellent attention to detail. Because they felt that their case against Robert would be stronger if his brother gave evidence, the prosecution were keen to have the charges against Nattie dropped, since at that time defendants were not allowed to tell their story in court. In the early proceedings, Robert had no lawyer or other representation and was expected to cross-examine witnesses by himself. The boys' father was a steward on board a transatlantic cattle vessel, and wasn't even aware of the murder till after the first hearings had taken place. Although this all sounds horrific to our modern ideas of justice, especially for children, there seems little doubt that Robert was indeed guilty, and some of the court officers did their best to make the process as easy for him as they could within the system. The boys were held in an adult jail during the trial process, but had individual cells – a luxury they would be unlikely to get today. The boys' extended family did show up for the hearings, so Nattie at least had some adult support. The defence quickly decided to try for an insanity ruling, which meant that they actually preferred for there not to be a rational motive, while the prosecution felt Robert's guilt was so obvious they didn't need one. The result of this is that no-one ever really asked why Robert did it, and so the motivation remains unclear. Summerscale suggests on the basis of some fairly circumstantial evidence that the mother may have been cruel to the boys in her husband's absence – there is a suggestion that she too suffered from “excitability” and extreme mood swings, and may have beaten the boys badly, but this is largely speculation. In this first section, Summerscale also widens her discussion out to look at the society and living conditions of the time. Robert's family was working class, but not grindingly poor – his father had a decent income, and the boys got a good education. However, at that time, there was much debate as to whether educating the poor was a good thing, especially since the ability to read allowed boys access to the “penny dreadfuls” of the time, which many considered to have a bad influence on impressionable young minds. Robert had a collection of such pamphlets, and the press made much of this. The crime took place in Plaistow in Essex, an industrial area within the range of the heavily polluted atmosphere of London. There was also much debate at that time about the general poor health of the urban poor, while the acceptance of the theory of evolution brought with it a belief in the possibility of its opposite, degeneration. It all reminded me of the “bad boy” culture that Andrew Levy discussed so thoroughly in his book about Twain's young hero, Huck Finn's America. The second half of the book tells the story of what happened to Robert after his conviction. Summerscale is asking, and answering, the question of whether someone who has done such a dreadful thing can go on to lead a normal, even worthwhile life. Robert spent several years in Broadmoor, the hospital for the criminally insane, where again because of his youth he was in fact treated more kindly than we might expect. This whole section is fascinating in what it tells us about the treatment of those judged criminally insane. In fact, from time to time there were complaints that the treatment was too kind – that people were faking insanity to avoid the much harder regime in normal prisons. This is not the end of Robert's story, though. Following his eventual release from Broadmoor, Summerscale follows his trail through the rest of his life, uncovering some interesting and unexpected details about how he turned out. So often true crime stories from the Victorian era end with a conviction and capital punishment. This one, being somewhat later and also because it concerned a child, is intriguing because we are able to see the aftermath. At the point of conviction Robert would undoubtedly have been seen as some kind of monster, but Summerscale lets us see whether the rest of his life confirmed that or allowed him to find some kind of redemption. Immaculately researched, well written and presented, this is easily the equal of Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, and personally, having worked with boys of that age with troubled and often criminal histories, I found this one even more interesting. Highly recommended. NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin Group. www.fictionfanblog.wordpress.com

  11. 5 out of 5

    ♥ Sandi ❣

    3.75 stars Based on the life of Robert Coombes, a child in the slums of London in 1895. His infamous claim to fame is the murder of his mother at age 13. The book follows his life as a youngster, his trial, his years in an insane asylum, his release, his years in the war and his stoic life once he settles down as a man. There are parts of this book that I really enjoyed reading. Then there are parts that I felt were almost 100% repetition. The book gives a lot of back story - which I enjoyed - an 3.75 stars Based on the life of Robert Coombes, a child in the slums of London in 1895. His infamous claim to fame is the murder of his mother at age 13. The book follows his life as a youngster, his trial, his years in an insane asylum, his release, his years in the war and his stoic life once he settles down as a man. There are parts of this book that I really enjoyed reading. Then there are parts that I felt were almost 100% repetition. The book gives a lot of back story - which I enjoyed - and also speaks of criminal cases similar to Roberts. It speaks to a lot of family background and a lot of societal problems, which were rampant at the time. The story takes us from when Robert was a very young boy - aged 13 - to manhood and his death in 1949 and then a bit thereafter. My problem with the book was that I felt that the author repeated certain parts of the story too often. I understand that she was starting in a new thought direction, but I did not feel it was necessary to repeat total parts of the story, for me to understand her change in course. The book was entertaining and the research and story plot were very good, but with all the repetition I believe the page count was probably a quarter again what it needed to be. I am sure this was a big project - as witnessed by the Notes and Bibliography - but believe that her editing staff could have made this a much better book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Orion

    Thought it would be in the same vein as In Cold Blood or Compulsion. But it was more of an historical and judicial essay. Too much cold facts and dates and too little emotional implication.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ariel

    I'd like to thank the Penguin Group, The Penguin Press, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Early one morning in the summer of 1865, a thirteen year old Robert Coombes lays beside his mother in bed. The heat of the day is already building towards its suffocating presence and Robert's mother, in her chemise and drawers rather than a nightdress, punches out at the boy beside her as he kicks about in bed. Minutes later Robert makes his way to a secon I'd like to thank the Penguin Group, The Penguin Press, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Early one morning in the summer of 1865, a thirteen year old Robert Coombes lays beside his mother in bed. The heat of the day is already building towards its suffocating presence and Robert's mother, in her chemise and drawers rather than a nightdress, punches out at the boy beside her as he kicks about in bed. Minutes later Robert makes his way to a second bedroom that he shares with his younger brother, Nattie, and tells him that he has done 'it' - he has killed their mother. His younger brother responding with disbelief, Robert leads him to their mother and father's bed where Nattie sees blood and hears a faint moan. Both boys go back to sleep, Robert back in the bed next to a dead or dying woman and Nattie back to their shared room. Emily Coombes was stabbed twice in the chest by a knife her son had bought weeks before and bludgeoned at the temple with a truncheon. Her sons, with the aide of money from her purse and the dress she had slipped off hours before, proceeded to pay the weekly rent through a neighbor, attend a cricket match, see a show, and eat out at local coffeehouses. They pawned off two watches and Robert's mandolin with the help of a family friend named John Fox, whom they enlisted into their escapades of the following ten days by inviting him to stay in their home to watch over them while their mother was away. Fox, described as simple-minded and trustworthy in the court case to come, was apparently oblivious to the growing stench of the house's fourth tenant or the oddity of the situation at hand. He pawned the possessions given to him, wore a suit Robert gave him, and slept and played cards with the boys in a downstairs backroom of the boys' home - not realizing how derailed his life was to become very shortly when the suspicions of the boys' aunt began to grow and the decomposing body of their mother was finally found. What followed was a newspaper-selling court case that rocked the surrounding area. Everything from what the boys' read (the penny bloods that had become such a contentious topic as of late) to what the boys wore at each appearance was fodder for the tell-all. In all the chaos, pity, and disturbance thrown up by the murder no one seemed to be able to get to the bottom of why. Were the boys insane, guilty, or both? Who was responsible for the murder, was Nattie culpable or just Robert? As the court proceeded, the boys were separated with Nattie becoming a witness rather than the accused. While Robert was eventually found guilty yet insane and shipped off to Broadmoor, the why of the crime lingered. This is the premise of Summerscale's Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer. In an atmospheric chronicle of the boys' home life, trial, and the path Robert's life took afterwards, Summerscale attempts to reconcile the why of a child murderer and his crime with the man that would eventually emerge from Broadmoor. Summerscale does a very good job at introducing the reader to the time period and the details of the Coombes case. It is a satisfyingly well researched effort that offers up a great view of those involved in the case, the boys as they were portrayed in the papers and witnessed in court, their educational and family backgrounds, as well as what the medical perspective on insanity and culpability was at the time. Though Summerscale poses a few personal theories as to the reasons behind the murder, the looming why remains. While society in general has a much larger awareness of psychology and mental illness today- those that could provide any real answers about motive have passed on. While chaos and stressors in the home were alluded to in both the provided testimony in court and in Summerscale's account, only presumptions can be made at this point. Presumptions aside, the details of Robert's life are certainly enthralling. As are the details of the time period that have been gathered and woven through this book so adeptly. It is this weaving of details that offers up such a great opportunity for comparison in so many areas. I think that Summerscale does a good job of observing the varying threads of her project's time and place while respecting those involved. The Wicked Boy is a very interesting read that poses a great amount of reflection on the volatility of the Victorian period, the changes that we've seen in the fairly recent past, and on the psychology of murder in general and matricide in specific.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    Kate Summerscale has an easy, elegant way of writing. As in some of her previous books she has taken an event from Victorian England and meticulously researched it to produce a detailed look at the period and the 'crime' involved. Her skill is in the detail and I really enjoyed the first half of the book - her description of late Victorian working class London is excellent and we really feel we are looking inside the small house where Robert murdered his mother. However, the latter part of the boo Kate Summerscale has an easy, elegant way of writing. As in some of her previous books she has taken an event from Victorian England and meticulously researched it to produce a detailed look at the period and the 'crime' involved. Her skill is in the detail and I really enjoyed the first half of the book - her description of late Victorian working class London is excellent and we really feel we are looking inside the small house where Robert murdered his mother. However, the latter part of the book suffers from excessive padding. I do love a Victorian true crime story but the trouble is, sometimes not enough information can be gathered however hard the author tries to unearth material. I really didn't need character sketches of many of the people Robert might or might not have come across during his incarceration.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Three and a half stars. Victorian London is transfixed with a new court case. Thirteen year old Robert Coombes and his twelve year old brother, Nattie, stand in the dock and the public are hooked on the sensation. Kate Summerscale's writing is matter of fact at times, but I can appreciate her reasons for this. Her explicit writing detailing the crime mirrors the Penny Dreadful novels attributed by some to playing a part in the case. The court account is engrossing and thoughtfully written. Summers Three and a half stars. Victorian London is transfixed with a new court case. Thirteen year old Robert Coombes and his twelve year old brother, Nattie, stand in the dock and the public are hooked on the sensation. Kate Summerscale's writing is matter of fact at times, but I can appreciate her reasons for this. Her explicit writing detailing the crime mirrors the Penny Dreadful novels attributed by some to playing a part in the case. The court account is engrossing and thoughtfully written. Summerscale highlights Victorian social, moral and psychological beliefs and her research regarding the prison system, including the regime and treatment of inmates, is comprehensive and detailed. A shocking crime which delves into Victorian life and its sensibilities.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    "You are a bad, wicked boy," she told Robert. "You knew your Ma was dead in the room and you ought to have told me." "Auntie," he replied. "Come to me and I will tell you the truth and tell you all about it." At 13, Robert Coombes was convicted of killing his mother. Her body was kept locked up in the upstairs bedroom for 10 days before the death was discovered. Kate Summerscale's straightforward narrative non-fiction account is an interesting peek into Victorian London and follows Robert through "You are a bad, wicked boy," she told Robert. "You knew your Ma was dead in the room and you ought to have told me." "Auntie," he replied. "Come to me and I will tell you the truth and tell you all about it." At 13, Robert Coombes was convicted of killing his mother. Her body was kept locked up in the upstairs bedroom for 10 days before the death was discovered. Kate Summerscale's straightforward narrative non-fiction account is an interesting peek into Victorian London and follows Robert through to his death. While the story of the murder is equal parts fascinating and horrifying, it is only part of what the book has to offer. We the readers get to experience turn of the century England, its judicial system, working environs, asylums, the Great War and a redeeming third act in the life of Robert Coombes. Recommended for true crime fans that enjoy coming to their own conclusions on a case.

  17. 5 out of 5

    MaryannC. Book Freak

    A totally fascinating read about a young Victorian child Robert Coombes, who brutally stabbed his mother one day in July, 1895. While the book goes into specific details of the crime and all it's gore, it also gives us a look into the everyday conditions of London's society which was often times brutal itself if you happened to be among the poor working classes. What I enjoyed about the book was that the author chronicled the life of Robert after he was sentenced and serving his time at Broadmoo A totally fascinating read about a young Victorian child Robert Coombes, who brutally stabbed his mother one day in July, 1895. While the book goes into specific details of the crime and all it's gore, it also gives us a look into the everyday conditions of London's society which was often times brutal itself if you happened to be among the poor working classes. What I enjoyed about the book was that the author chronicled the life of Robert after he was sentenced and serving his time at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum to eventually redeeming his life to go onto becoming a distinguished serviceman during the Great War and overall, caring human being. Instead of just sensationalizing the story itself, Kate Summerscale gave us a compassionate look into why perhaps a young child could commit such a horrific crime and come out a better person in the end. Recommended for those who love History and stories related to crime.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

    This was my first Kate Summerscale book, and, I must say, I was deeply impressed. Assiduously researched, The Wicked Boy starts off with the murder of Emily Coombes in 1895 by either one or both of her sons, aged 12 and 13. But the book is so much more than that. It follows the two boys during the ten days between the date of the crime and the discovery; it follows the boys through the court system and its aftermath; and, finally, shows the courses of the rest of the boys' lives. Richly detailed This was my first Kate Summerscale book, and, I must say, I was deeply impressed. Assiduously researched, The Wicked Boy starts off with the murder of Emily Coombes in 1895 by either one or both of her sons, aged 12 and 13. But the book is so much more than that. It follows the two boys during the ten days between the date of the crime and the discovery; it follows the boys through the court system and its aftermath; and, finally, shows the courses of the rest of the boys' lives. Richly detailed, the book takes you right into that time period, it highlights the culture, society and norms of the times. With expert writing, you are immediately drawn into the story. My favorite part of the book was the last chapter, which I won't reveal here. But, surprisingly, the story does include a hint of redemption. 5 stars for this one, I'd highly recommend it to anyone. I'm definitely going to look into this author's other works. Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Press for a copy of this in exchange for an honest review.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Diane Lynch

    Awesome recreation of Robert Coombes life from the age of 13 in the late 1800’s. Wicked Boy? After you read the book you will wonder who the wicked one was. Robert murdered his mom. Wound up in the best wing of an insane asylum. Very bright and continue to grow into a man most people would be proud of. WWI Vet. His entire life is reconstructed through amazing research. The only thing that doesn't fit his the murder of his mom. Or does it. The sociology at the time was so primitive compared to to Awesome recreation of Robert Coombes life from the age of 13 in the late 1800’s. Wicked Boy? After you read the book you will wonder who the wicked one was. Robert murdered his mom. Wound up in the best wing of an insane asylum. Very bright and continue to grow into a man most people would be proud of. WWI Vet. His entire life is reconstructed through amazing research. The only thing that doesn't fit his the murder of his mom. Or does it. The sociology at the time was so primitive compared to today. I will leave you with Robert is a gentle, loving soul. He did what he had to do at the time for his 12 year old brother or for both of them. Page turner. I voluntarily wrote this review which is my own opinion. I would like to thank the author and publisher for my complimentary copy.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

    This book, this case of a boy (or boys) killing his mother, is more proof that playing violent video games shapes young minds in ways that lead to violen – Sorry? Oh, it's not 1995, but 1895? Oh. Right. This book, this case of a boy killing his mother, is more proof that reading sensational literature shapes young minds in ways that lead to violence and depravity. As Louisa May Alcott said, "She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain." The killing at the center of this book is extreme This book, this case of a boy (or boys) killing his mother, is more proof that playing violent video games shapes young minds in ways that lead to violen – Sorry? Oh, it's not 1995, but 1895? Oh. Right. This book, this case of a boy killing his mother, is more proof that reading sensational literature shapes young minds in ways that lead to violence and depravity. As Louisa May Alcott said, "She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain." The killing at the center of this book is extremely disturbing. The older of the two brothers in question is even moreso. Don't get me wrong, the younger brother is creepy – but the older one … "Robert was taken back to Holloway gaol. He was laughing as he got into the cab." It's the sort of thing that's always pointed out with salacious horror in coverage of trials – the defendant and his lawyer were seen laughing during a break in the harrowing testimony, that sort of thing. It's not how a kid should … be. "Be as careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as the latter." - Paxton Hood I've often heard of Broadmoor prison; in fact, there is an apartment complex around the corner from me which I thought about applying to, but honestly couldn't seriously consider because of the name. Come to find out, the place that has lived in my mind as a rather horrific insane asylum ("'Broadmoor!' as R. J. Tucknor wrote in a short story for Reynolds Newspaper: 'What visions of horror, ruined lives, and blasted aspirations, of madness and despair, does that single word conjure up!'") was … kind of a nice place to live. I won't spoil it, but it basically amounted to a place where one didn't have to worry about keeping a roof over one's head or feeding oneself, with no mundane worries or responsibilities, where one was surrounded by wholesome recreation opportunities and could even find oneself contributing to dictionary creation. If you were a man you even got an ounce of tobacco each week. There are days (and not a few of them) when I'd love to be an inmate at Broadmoor. (The good part. There was> a bad part.) Oh, and there were interesting neighbors: "One elderly inmate, said to have killed his mother in 1849, would inform passersby that he had great mysteries, comets, suns and fires fastened to his shoulders." That's a hell of a lot more interesting than my current neighbors. "In every other age and class man is held responsible for his reading, and not reading responsible for man. The books a man or woman reads are less the making of character than the expression of it." - The Pall Mall Gazette This was a fascinating examination of the specific case and its setting – and its aftermath. Well-researched, well-written – and well recommended. (Aside: I was entertained to read about "the sour, urinous scent of the Bryant & May match works"… That's much the way I now feel about the Bryand and May mystery series after its author's recent remarks.) The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Digital Book Freak

    Review rating: 4 stars. This is a very detailed novel about the lives of Robert Coombes, and his brother, Nattie. The boys told neighbours and friends that their mother, Emily, is visiting family in Liverpool. But after 10 days, when a pungent smell coming from their home, puts the neighbours and friends in a frantic state, a horrible discovery is made. This is for sure a page turner, a story that stays with you long after you've finished reading it and an eye opener to how innocent children reall Review rating: 4 stars. This is a very detailed novel about the lives of Robert Coombes, and his brother, Nattie. The boys told neighbours and friends that their mother, Emily, is visiting family in Liverpool. But after 10 days, when a pungent smell coming from their home, puts the neighbours and friends in a frantic state, a horrible discovery is made. This is for sure a page turner, a story that stays with you long after you've finished reading it and an eye opener to how innocent children really are. Brilliantly written. Lots of details about the boy's growing up, experiences, love and loss. It makes you take a long hard look at yourself as mother or father. I would highly recommend this novel. Thank you for reading my review! Special thanks to the author, Kate Summerscale via Netgalley, for providing me with an ARC of The Wicked Boy in exchange for a fair & honest review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Addison

    Like her previous book, The Suspicions of Mr WhicherThe Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective (which is excellent), this is a book about Victorian England, children, and murder. Specifically children who commit murder. Constance Kent (in TSoMrW) murdered her half-brother. Robert Coombes, the eponymous wicked boy, murdered his mother (with the clear connivance of his younger brother). Summerscale starts with the murder and traces Robert's life Like her previous book, The Suspicions of Mr WhicherThe Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective (which is excellent), this is a book about Victorian England, children, and murder. Specifically children who commit murder. Constance Kent (in TSoMrW) murdered her half-brother. Robert Coombes, the eponymous wicked boy, murdered his mother (with the clear connivance of his younger brother). Summerscale starts with the murder and traces Robert's life thereafter, from the trial to Broadmoor to Australia, and to an adulthood where he served honorably in WWI, took in a boy who had been savagely beaten by his stepfather, was an reclusive but valued member of his community, and basically lived an honorable and worthy life. Summerscale points as best she can to the evidence of what caused Robert's horrible crime--and it was horrible, premeditated and vicious--the signs that his mother was abusive and erratic, that her sons were frightened of her, that Robert was under enough stress and sufficiently trapped (he tried to run away twice and was brought back both times) to cause him to dissociate from reality. In the week after the murder, while his mother's corpse lay on her bed, Robert seems to have been trying to recreate, in an ineffective and literally childish way, the circumstances of one of the penny-dreadfuls he read voraciously, in which boys, conveniently unfettered by the presence of parents, go out and have wonderful adventures. As Summerscale notes, it's hard to tell from the evidence of the trial whether Robert truly understood either what he had done or what the consequences might be. The judge refused to let the jury bring a lesser charge, so they did the only thing they could do to keep from sending a 13 year old to the gallows: they found him guilty but insane. And although they brought that verdict out of mercy, Summerscale suggests that it was actually also true. Summerscale is an excellent writer and a scrupulous historian. Five stars.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    interesting book about the life of robert coombes who murdered his mother in 1895 and the events leading to and after the murder to the trial at the old bailey and his time at broadmoor and WW1 and australia.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    I did not finish this. It was painfully boring... my book club all agreed and we switched to another book. I love a good non-fiction story, but this one is not worth my time. I don't understand the high ratings.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nigeyb

    A gripping tale and a marvellous achievement I bought The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer on a whim when it was an Audible deal of the day. That, it turns out, was a very good decision. It's superb. The Wicked Boy of the title is 13 year old Robert Coombes, who early on the morning of Monday, 8 July 1895, along with his 12 year old brother Nattie, travelled from their terraced house in East London to watch a cricket match at Lord's. Their father had gone to sea the previous A gripping tale and a marvellous achievement I bought The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer on a whim when it was an Audible deal of the day. That, it turns out, was a very good decision. It's superb. The Wicked Boy of the title is 13 year old Robert Coombes, who early on the morning of Monday, 8 July 1895, along with his 12 year old brother Nattie, travelled from their terraced house in East London to watch a cricket match at Lord's. Their father had gone to sea the previous Friday, the boys told their neighbours that their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next 10 days, Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning their parents' valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside. Unbeknownst to anyone but Nattie, Robert Coombe had killed his mother. The murder 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. The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer is full of wonderful period detail: great descriptions of the docks, West Ham in east London, the Gentlemen v Players cricket match at Lords featuring WC Grace, the local candidates for West Ham South in the General Election of 1895, moral panics, and just numerous details of day to day life. It’s wonderfully researched and a really compelling tale. I was interested to note that with increased literary (via the recent Board Schools) came great concern about the influence of cheap literature, especially the Penny Dreadfuls (or Penny Bloods) on the minds of “the lower orders”. Given his collection of Penny Dreadfuls, this case of the 13 year old Robert Coombes killing his mother, gives the newspapers ample opportunity to speculate on their negative influence. After the trial, the tale takes a a number of unexpected turns which include life in Broadmoor, which was far more progressive and enlightened than I ever could imagined; WW1 exploits from Gallipoli and the Western Front; and life in rural Australia. It's both an extraordinary tale of crime and redemption, and also a fascinating peak into another era. A gripping tale and a marvellous achievement. I'll be reading the rest of Kate Summerscale's work. 5/5

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nicola Mansfield

    Fantastic book! page-turner I read over a few days. First and foremost it is a social history of the periods 1895 to the early 1940s. This history follows the lifespan of an obscure but fascinating individual, Robert Coombes, 13, who murdered his mother. There is the story of the murder, the trial with quotes from the transcript and the aftermath of verdict and sentencing. During this period we learn so much of living in east London, the first applications of new child protection laws and Coomb Fantastic book! page-turner I read over a few days. First and foremost it is a social history of the periods 1895 to the early 1940s. This history follows the lifespan of an obscure but fascinating individual, Robert Coombes, 13, who murdered his mother. There is the story of the murder, the trial with quotes from the transcript and the aftermath of verdict and sentencing. During this period we learn so much of living in east London, the first applications of new child protection laws and Coombes childhood history. Later Coombes is sent to Broadmore and the fascinating portrayal of how far ahead of the times the psychiatrists there were. This was probably my favourite part as we learned about day to day life there for the troubled but either wealthy or educated men, as that is the ward where they placed the youngster. I was fascinated with how the prison asylum worked and this section contained many quotes from the employee's red handbook of rules on how to treat the patients. Then we see the inside workings of a Salvation Army community, one founded by William Booth himself. Halfway through the book, the setting is switched to Australia and I was amazed to find a recounting of WWI through the ANZAC point of view. The action goes from Gallipoli to Passenchadale. The epilogue is amazing but I won't say what it is about as it's fascinating. As to Robert and his crime, he never really gave sufficient explanation and the author goes through all the possible motives or reasons from the contemporary experts (reading Penny Dreadfuls, brain irritation, de-evolution, etc.) to speaking with a current doctor at Broadmore who puts it down as a psychotic episode brought on by his dysfunctional family life and surroundings. This is the second book I've read by this author and I will certainly read her others. Social history at its best!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Noeleen

    London, 1895, Robert Coombes (aged 13) and his brother Nattie (aged 12) are arrested for matricide and sent to the Old Bailey for trial. This is the true crime account of Robert Coombes and his brother Nattie. The book opens a number of days before their mother’s body is discovered, continues through the trial and its aftermath and subsequently Robert’s detention in Broadmoor. This is a very well written and extremely well researched book on this case, providing the reader with detailed informati London, 1895, Robert Coombes (aged 13) and his brother Nattie (aged 12) are arrested for matricide and sent to the Old Bailey for trial. This is the true crime account of Robert Coombes and his brother Nattie. The book opens a number of days before their mother’s body is discovered, continues through the trial and its aftermath and subsequently Robert’s detention in Broadmoor. This is a very well written and extremely well researched book on this case, providing the reader with detailed information not only on the case itself but also providing significantly fascinating and in-depth information on the social, political, economic and cultural environments during this time period in London. A very interesting aspect of the story was learning how the court system worked back in the late 19th century and how the case became a form of entertainment for many. I had a difficult time however with the descriptions of the body upon discovery and again this being retold afterwards during various hearings. The ‘Penny Dreadfuls’, the hugely popular and sensational serial literature of the day, aimed mainly at the working classes, plays an important role in the telling of this story. Additionally, the story is interspersed with various theories of the day on many relevant topics. Ultimately there is hope at the end and glimpses of the beginnings of the understanding of mental illness. Recommended if you enjoy true crime with very well researched and detailed historical information. My thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book in exchange for an honest review

  28. 4 out of 5

    Angus McKeogh

    This is the second of her Victorian-type, historical mysteries and unfortunately I haven’t found either all that interesting. Perhaps it’s the lack of information. Perhaps it’s the court transcript that reveals nothing. Or maybe it’s just the story that veers towards the boring after several chapters. Whatever it was, just not a book that grabbed my attention and held it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cleopatra Pullen

    I do love Victorian true crime and Kate Summerscale managed to stumble across a fairly obscure one in 1895 West Ham, that of a young boy, thirteen year old Robert Coombes who was accused of murder and stood trial at the Old Bailey on just that charge. The beauty of Kate Summerscale’s books are the minutiae of detail that surround the actual substance of the book, and this one is no different. The crime in this instance isn’t the puzzle that we met in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, rather this is a I do love Victorian true crime and Kate Summerscale managed to stumble across a fairly obscure one in 1895 West Ham, that of a young boy, thirteen year old Robert Coombes who was accused of murder and stood trial at the Old Bailey on just that charge. The beauty of Kate Summerscale’s books are the minutiae of detail that surround the actual substance of the book, and this one is no different. The crime in this instance isn’t the puzzle that we met in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, rather this is a book about the attitudes of the day both in the media and those in the legal profession. It also looks at the contemporary view of the medical profession on inherent wickedness including a fairly popular one that considered children little more than wild animals to be tamed. Robert and his younger brother Nattie Coombes had gone to watch the cricket at Lords in the aftermath of the murder as well as going to the seaside and playing in the vicinity of their home. However as the accused they could not defend themselves in court: The law barred defendants from testifying, but since Fox, Robert and Nattie had no legal representation they were entitled to question the witnesses that Baggallay called. Can you imagine boys of thirteen and twelve who had never been in court before having the wherewithal to question witnesses that accused them of murder? I can’t! The media was less concerned with this fundamental flaw in the proceedings and were instead highly concerned in the ‘penny bloods’ that Robert devoured. When one journalist at St James’s Gazette was tasked with reading the publications he stated the following: The task was ‘repulsive and depressing’, he said; the writing ‘brutalised my whole consciousness’, reviving ‘the fundamental instinct of savagery inherent in us all It disgusts, but it attracts; as one reads on the disgust lessens and the attraction increases. ‘The Coombes boys, he concluded, ‘with their intelligence scientifically developed at the expense of the ratepayers, had been wound up to regard murder as a highly superior kind of ‘lark’ by a sedulous study of the worst kind of gory fiction and cut-throat newspaper’. This of course was one of the first generations of children who had been educated at the Board Schools set up in each district. It seems from this piece that there was a general feeling that this money was wasted on the poorer members of society. The biggest concern however was around the number of the publications of penny bloods that were found in Robert and Nattie’s home, their influence was considered by some as the chief catalyst in the murder – not so very different to our own newspapers in recent years lamenting various films and games that were also a big attraction to teenage boys. In fact there were a number of media reports in this book that could quite easily be transported to today’s press with only minor alterations needed to update them! This book isn’t just about the murder and the trial though it goes on to follow Robert through his life to see what life for a child murderer looked like in Victorian England. The answer may not be quite what you expect! All through this time Kate Summerscale draws comparisons to other happenings of the day, other crimes that filled the courts, the life of those who lived in the same area as the Coombes boys. Nuggets of priceless information abound the pages with subjects quite wide-ranging while always linked the central story but give lovers of historical facts like me a treasure chest of facts to wonder upon. Each male patient was allocated an ounce of tobacco a week, drawn from the government stock of contraband seized by Customs & Exercise officer. With so much to absorb, particularly as my maternal ancestors moved to West Ham around the turn of the Twentieth century and in particular one of the newspaper reports featured in this look at crimes at this time involved distant relatives of mine, there was much to keep me entertained and engaged from beginning to end. The End notes are a delight all of their own: The sun rose at 3:53 a.m. that morning according to the London Standard of 8 July 1895 and set at 8:15 p.m. The Standard of 9 July reported that the temperature on Monday rose to 81 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. leaving me in no doubt at all regarding the quality of the research undertaken by Kate Summerscale. I am very grateful for the publishers Penguin Press for allowing me to read a copy of The Wicked Boy, this review is my own, unbiased opinion.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    3.5 or somewhere thereabouts. As someone who loves all crimes and all things darker Victorian, I'd been looking forward to reading this book ever since I discovered it was going to be published. Kate Summerscale is one hell of a researcher for sure -- her books are steeped in cultural, social, economic and historical context so that the reader has a very good feel for the bigger picture stemming outward from the crime in question. In The Wicked Boy, Ms. Summerscale takes on the story of Robert C 3.5 or somewhere thereabouts. As someone who loves all crimes and all things darker Victorian, I'd been looking forward to reading this book ever since I discovered it was going to be published. Kate Summerscale is one hell of a researcher for sure -- her books are steeped in cultural, social, economic and historical context so that the reader has a very good feel for the bigger picture stemming outward from the crime in question. In The Wicked Boy, Ms. Summerscale takes on the story of Robert Coombes, who in July 1895 at the young age of thirteen, killed his mother, closed the bedroom door where the crime was committed, and then along with his younger brother Nattie, calmly went to a cricket match. The crime went undetected for a while, even when the brothers brought an older man, John Fox, into the house to stay with them, and whenever anyone would ask about mom, they were told that she was out of town. When Robert's aunt finally demands to see their mother, and when the bedroom door was finally opened, she was met with "the smell of rotting flesh" and the "form of a woman, lying on the bed, the face covered by a sheet and a pillow." When faced with what he'd done, Robert admits that it was he who had killed his mother because Nattie had "got a hiding for stealing some food, and Ma was going to give me one." In examining the whys in the case, Summerscale turns to different factors that may have played a role in the reason Coombes did what he did. As just one example, perhaps he was heavily influenced by the stories in the penny dreadfuls he read -- after all, as she notes, they had been occasionally linked by inquest juries to motives behind suicide and murder; the press had noted that they were "the poison which is threatening to destroy the manhood of democracy," and for some reason they were viewed as representative of a threat from the "lower orders." After the author examines the particulars of the case, the law, the trial, etc., she then goes on to argue that perhaps history shouldn't judge Robert Coombes for what he did in July 1895, since he went on to lead an exemplary life. As I said, it's very obvious that she's researched her story and her people meticulously. I couldn't get enough of the crime itself, trying to figure out why Robert would have done what he did and what Nattie's involvement may have actually been. However, there comes a time when any researcher worth her or his salt has to know what to keep and what to let go when reporting her findings, and that's one of my issues with this book. So much could easily have been left out with no detriment to either the study of the crime at hand or the people involved. For example, from pp 226 through 233 we get a long section on another Broadmoor inmate who played cricket at Broadmoor while Robert was there. Then, through the end of that chapter on 239, more about another young inmate. Interesting, yes, but germane to Coombes' story? I get that she's discussing other adolescents who ended up there, but still, thirteen pages? This tends to happen throughout this book and it gets frustrating after a while. However, despite my misgivings about the overabundance of what I see as unnecessary details woven into this narrative, I would certainly recommend the book to anyone who has an interest in Victorian true crime.

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