- About the Book
From the internationally bestselling author, a deeply researched and atmospheric murder mystery of late Victorian-era LondonIn 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.From the Hardcover edition.
Summerscale...has performed a remarkable job of historical reconstruction in this book. She holds her story strictly to the evidence and is particularly crisp in her portrayals of the many subsidiary characters who figure in her book.... A reviewer should reveal no more than that Robert Coombes had a later life, and a dramatic one. Summerscale's description of how she made her discovery, recounted in her epilogue, transforms her story from the genre of true crime reporting into an epic journey of fate and redemption.
—Dallas Morning News
—Dallas Morning News
Any reader can probably guess where this is going. But it's a testament to the tension-stoking skills of Kate Summerscale, author of "The Wicked Boy," that our prickly suspicion that Emily Coombes is not visiting an aunt in Liverpool does not detract from our swift immersion in the narrative. In fact, the first pages of the book are among its most gripping.... Ms. Summerscale has found a nifty literary specialty: resurrecting and reanimating, in detail as much forensic as it is novelistic, notorious true-life tales of the Victorian era.... Enjoyable as an atmospheric tale of crime and punishment from a distant era written in lucid, limber prose, "The Wicked Boy" also implicitly raises questions that remain with us today.... Ms. Summerscale's easy mastery of what turns out to be a complicated, at times surprising narrative drives the book forward.... Ms. Summerscale draws no firm psychological conclusions, but instead leaves the mystery of the boy and the man to our imaginations, where it pricks at us throughout the book.
—New York Times
—New York Times