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The Wicked Boy

The Wicked Boy

The Mystery of A Victorian Child Murderer

Book - 2016
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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 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, 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, 2016.
ISBN: 9781594205781
Characteristics: 378 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, genealogical table, maps ; 22 cm


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Winner, Best Fact Crime

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Aug 14, 2020

THIS STORY HAD EVERYTHING! It’s narrative nonfiction but reads like a Dickensian novel. The crime is fascinating itself but I quickly became absorbed in the story about Robert Coombes (On a side note, I could read a whole book on just Broadmoor alone) and the conclusion had me in tears!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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