The Wicked Boy

The Wicked Boy

The Mystery of A Victorian Child Murderer

Book - 2016
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Penguin Putnam
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.

Baker & Taylor
Relates the 1895 case of Robert and Nattie Coombes, preadolescent boys who killed their mother; the subsequent trial that found Robert guilty but insane; his detention in Broadmoor, the infamous criminal lunatic asylum; and the surprising outcome of his incarceration.

Baker
& Taylor

When a pair of preadolescent boys are implicated in the murder of their mother during the summer of 1895, the older is convicted and sent to the country's most infamous criminal lunatic asylum, where he embarks on a shocking new life that raises questions about period education, pulp fiction, criminality and mental illness. By the best-selling author of Queen of the White Cay.
In East London in the summer of 1895, Robert Coombes (age thirteen) and his brother Nattie (age twelve) 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. The judge sentenced him to detention in Broadmoor, the most infamous criminal lunatic asylum in the land. Shockingly, Broadmoor turned out to be the beginning of a new life for Robert. At a time of great tumult and uncertainty, Robert Coombes's casecrystallized 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, Summerscale re-creates this terrible crime and its aftermath, uncovering an extraordinary story of man's capacity to overcome the past. --

Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, c2016
ISBN: 9781594205781
Branch Call Number: 364.1523 SUM
Characteristics: 378 p., [16] p. of plates :,geneal. table, ill., maps ;,22 cm.

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MsMarple Mar 09, 2017

Based on extensive research into a huge range of contemporary resources, the author has brought to life the lives, times, customs, prejudices, social and economic conditions and much more of a paricular time in English history to create an accurate and highly readable account of what was a huge scandal. Why did a thirteen year old boy kill his mother ? Summerscale has carefully, respectfully told Robert Coombs story and given the reader a sensitive insight into another time.

a
Activevoice
Oct 27, 2016

This is the first Kate Summerscale book I have read but, immediately upon completing The Wicked Boy, I requested her other true crime historical novels. Her skill as a journalist shines through her writing: concise, clear but with intrigue and suspense usually found in a good mystery novel. The crime was interesting enough but her background research was compelling: the Victorian justice system, Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, and Anzac troops in Gallipoli. Her “Wicked Boy” was a complex character and, even with all her discoveries, a lingering mystery in himself. First Rate book.

u
uncommonreader
Sep 30, 2016

This is an interesting biography of Robert Coombes, a working class lad from the East End, who killed his mother in 1895 and went on to live a rather surprising life. It is set at the time of early studies of criminality and mental illness and explores such issues as the impact of "penny dreadfuls" on the youth of the day. The book is well-researched, but Summerscale used everything she unearthed, sometimes of questionable relevance.

h
horthhill
Sep 08, 2016

"The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer" by Kate Summerscale is the best non-fiction book I've read in the past year. I'm impressed by the sleuthing and searching Summerscale has done to tell a complete story. It is a mystery and like a really good mystery the ending is deeply satisfying.

j
jr3083
Aug 23, 2016

Set in 1895 London, this is a true crime retelling of a matricide committed by a young boy, the resulting trial and the aftermath. This is skilled non-fiction writing that manages to combine both tension and resolution, while remaining true to its sources. For my full review, see
https://residentjudge.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/the-wicked-boy-the-mystery-of-a-victorian-child-murderer-by-kate-summerscale/

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