The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

by Kate Summerscale


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Winner of the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime Book! 

From the internationally bestselling author, a deeply researched and atmospheric murder mystery of late Victorian-era London

In the summer of 1895, Robert Coombes (age 13) and his brother Nattie (age 12) were seen spending lavishly around the docklands of East London — for ten days in July, they ate out at coffee houses and took trips to the seaside and the theater. The boys told neighbors they had been left home alone while their mother visited family in Liverpool, but their aunt was suspicious. When she eventually forced the brothers to open the house to her, she found the badly decomposed body of their mother in a bedroom upstairs. Robert and Nattie were arrested for matricide and sent for trial at the Old Bailey. 

Robert confessed to having stabbed his mother, but his lawyers argued that he was insane. Nattie struck a plea and gave evidence against his brother. The court heard testimony about Robert's severe headaches, his fascination with violent criminals and his passion for 'penny dreadfuls', the pulp fiction of the day. He seemed to feel no remorse for what he had done, and neither the prosecution nor the defense could find a motive for the murder. The judge sentenced the thirteen-year-old to detention in Broadmoor, the most infamous criminal lunatic asylum in the land. Yet Broadmoor turned out to be the beginning of a new life for Robert—one that would have profoundly shocked anyone who thought they understood the Wicked Boy.

At a time of great tumult and uncertainty, Robert Coombes's case crystallized contemporary anxieties about the education of the working classes, the dangers of pulp fiction, and evolving theories of criminality, childhood, and insanity. With riveting detail and rich atmosphere, Kate Summerscale recreates this terrible crime and its aftermath, uncovering an extraordinary story of man's capacity to overcome the past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594205781
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/12/2016
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Kate Summerscale, formerly the literary editor of the Daily Telegraph, is the author of The Queen of Whale Cay, which won a Somerset Maugham Award and was short-listed for the Whitbread Biography Prize. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher was a #1 bestseller in the UK, has been translated into more than a dozen languages, was short-listed for the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction and the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime, and won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and the British Book Awards Book of the Year. Summerscale lives in London.

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The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written and a topic the author strongly researched. ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Kate Summerscale's books. All are interesting. This one traces the whole life of a boy who murders his mother. The author gives you information on his family, his trial, his stay in an asylum, his war service, and after. She includes information about the life of his father and younger brother as well. The book also explains the lifestyle and legal procedures during this time in history. All her books are well written and throughly researched. Highly recommended. This book deserves an A+++++
LitWinner More than 1 year ago
The Wicked Boy is one of those books that drew me in with its cover. It is very reminiscent of The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, another non-fiction story of a historical crime. However, The Wicked Boy is a much different story, occurring in a different culture and continent. I was interested to learn about how matricide is not just a product of current American culture. Robert Coombes’ crime happened over a hundred years ago, in a time and world far different than how we live now. We are privy to much of the trial information; as such, I learned much about how British courts operated in the late 19th century, especially in regard to minors. What I found most fascinating about the information we received about the suspect was how readers of the newspaper accounts just had to believe the reporters. There were no such things as photos, so if the report stated that Coombes’ sneered or looked evil, than that was how he must be. Now we have courtroom artists, and usually actual photographs and video, of our notorious trials. Even the author noted that in one instance, an account noted the Coombes’ brothers in certain complexions, when in actuality, it was reversed. I didn’t really start to enjoy the book until we arrived at the part detailing Robert’s life after he is sentenced to the infamous Broadmoor mental asylum. I recently watched a documentary about Broadmoor and was interested to see how it operated at the turn of the 20th century and how Robert fared as a child resident. We also learn about his service to Australia in World War II and his adoption of a neighbor child. Robert was able to live in anonymity after his release from Broadmoor, a fate that would not be possible today. Perhaps the lack of photographs was a blessing for those who were able to atone for their crimes. While I didn’t love The Wicked Boy, I did like it and felt I finished the book having learned something. Others who are interested in historical crimes and its parallels to modern crime would probably enjoy this book. I received this book as part of my involvement with Netgalley. All thoughts are my own.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
I had no idea that this was a true crime story until I started reading it. I can't believe how gruesome this murder was. However, it's the fact that they just left her laying there that was the worse and they were just 12 and 13 years old. Robert was definitely an exceptionally smart boy with all the things he did afterwards. I will tell you though this much more than just the story of the murder of Robert and Nattie's mother. There is so much more information about the times, the economy, the people, the Justice system, story of penny dreadfuls and just about everything and everyone that is mentioned is elaborated on with facts and interesting information. It may be more than what you were expecting, but you can't say you were cheated. A very interesting, informative and mind boggling read. You can tell the author spent a lot of time researching this book. And they did a great job! Thanks Penguin Press and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.