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The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

Kate Summerscale

$54.99

Hardback

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Penguin Press
12 July 2016
Biography; True crime; British & Irish history
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.
By:   Kate Summerscale
Imprint:   Penguin Press
Dimensions:   Height: 208mm,  Width: 147mm,  Spine: 36mm
Weight:   567g
ISBN:   9781594205781
ISBN 10:   1594205787
Pages:   400
Publication Date:   12 July 2016
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

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.

Reviews for The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

Praise for Kate Summerscale: It is a beautiful piece, written with great lucidity and respect for the reader, and with immaculate restraint. A classic, to my mind, of the finest documentary writing. - John Le Carre A pacy analysis of a true British murder case from 1860, the unravelling of which involved one of the earliest Scotland Yard detectives and inspired sensation novelists such as Dickens and Wilkie Collins ... Absolutely riveting - Sarah Waters [A] fastidious reconstruction and expansive analysis of the Road Hill murder case...Summerscale smartly uses an energetic narrative voice and a suspenseful pace, among other novelistic devices, to make her factual material read with the urgency of a work of fiction. - Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review This is the golden age of narrative nonfiction, and Summerscale does it better than just about anyone. - Laura Miller of Salon.com on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday Summerscale unspools the Robinsons' tale with flair in Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace, but it's her social history of marriage that's really riveting. Grade: A - Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly [Kate Summerscale] prods, scrutinizes and examines, employing a real-life historical episode to shed light on Victorian morality and sensibilities . . . The end of the court case is surprising, and to give it away would be an insult to Summerscale's cleverly constructed narrative. But she stresses that one thing is clear: the diary 'may not tell us, for certain, what happened in Isabella's life, but it tells us what she wanted.' - Andrea Wulf, The New York Times Book Review Kate Summerscale--perfectly at home in the 19th century, as evidenced in 2008's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, her grisly but addictively readable tale of an 1860 murder investigation--blends cultural history with all the elements of a doomed love story in her tale of a real-life Madame Bovary . . . Isabella emerges, regardless of the verdict, as the most fascinating of characters, her pride not trampled in the face of a defense that called for her to proclaim herself a sex maniac rather than an adulterer. Not much of a choice, but she still came out on top. - Jordan Foster, NPR.org [Isabella Robinson's] is a sad story, but Summerscale tells it with sympathy and understanding. She sees Isabella as a British Madame Bovary, whose story Gustave Flaubert was setting down in his great novel even as Isabella's story was unfolding. She also sees Isabella as a transitional figure in women's slow and difficult progress from repression and exploitation to the liberation that in time emerged. The evidence Summerscale presents suggests that this is a fair interpretation. - Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post With intelligence and graceful prose, Summerscale gives an intimate and surprising look into Victorian life. - Publishers Weekly (starred review) A brilliant reconstruction of the obstacles facing detectives long before the advent of forensic technology. - L.A. Times Book Review Not just a dark, vicious true-crime story; it is the story of the birth of forensic science, founded on the new and disturbing idea that innocent, insignificant domestic details can reveal unspeakable horrors to those who know how to read them. - Time


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