Early in the morning of Monday, 8 July 1895, 13-year-old Robert Coombes and his 12-year-old brother, Nattie, set out from their small, yellow-brick terraced house in East London to watch a cricket match at Lord's. Their father had gone to sea the previous Friday, the boys told their neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next 10 days, Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning their parents' valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside.
But as the sun beat down on the Coombes' house, a strange smell began to emanate from the building. When the police were finally called to investigate, the discovery they made sent the press into a frenzy of horror and alarm, and Robert and Nattie were swept up in a criminal trial that echoed the outrageous plots of the penny dreadful novels that Robert loved to read.
In The Wicked Boy, Kate Summerscale has uncovered a fascinating true story of murder and morality. It is not just a meticulous examination of a shocking Victorian case but also a compelling account of its aftermath and of man's capacity to overcome the past.
©2016 Kate Summerscale (P)2016 Audible, Ltd
"A beautiful piece, written with great lucidity and respect for the listener, and with immaculate restraint. A classic, to my mind, of the finest documentary writing." (John le Carre)
"Summerscale has constructed nothing less than a masterpiece.... My shelves are stacked with books about crime, but none more satisfying than this." (Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday)
The book starts with the facts of a relatively straightforward, notorious crime in which Robert Coomes, a disturbed 13 year old, murdered his mother in 1895. The same story is repeated with some extra material during the Coroner’s investigation, in the Magistrate’s and Crown Court cases, becoming somewhat tedious with reiteration.
The title of the book gives the impression that this would be an investigation into a crime, but this is far from what is presented. The story of the crime is too slight to merit a whole book, but the author has done an immense amount of research into the criminal justice system, education standards and the social, political and technological history of the era and incorporated a great deal of this into the narrative. I found most of this peripheral material interesting, but was irritated by the excessive amount of irrelevant stuff such as the addresses, martial status, number and ages of children, past employment, and attire of many people who only appear for a few sentences in the book.
There are also long passages of psychological speculation and descriptions of psychiatrists’ theories of the time without much evidence of the relevance to the case. After the judgement and Robert’s committal to Broadmoor the author, having got access to the contemporary files of the institution, incorporates details about other patients that had little to do with Robert's story. By the end of the book one is left still uncertain why Robert murdered his mother.
Robert’s life is followed into the 20th century and the last hours of the recording have long descriptions of conditions during the Boer and First World wars, and rural life in Australia, followed by a long epilogue by the author that repeats some of the details of the crime and describes her labours in getting all the extra material that fleshes out the novel.
I found the book interesting but felt that the author, having done so much research, could not resist incorporating too much of it into the narrative.
The narrator is excellent.
I disagree with a previous reviewer that this was an overlong, less than thrilling book. I liked the development of what the French call "faits divers", into the story of a life of a child "of no importance", which would have been unmarked, but that he'd killed his mother, when he was only 13. Matricide is an extremely unusual crime in the UK; in my lifetime, psychiatrists regarded it as "the schizophrenic crime" par excellence: most psychotic folk don't murder anyone, BTW.
I appreciated the exploration of social conditions, police investigations, judicial proceedings of that time (1890s) forensic medicine and psychiatry/psychology, the descriptions of life in prison and particularly in Broadmoor (more enlightened than I feared, but SO class-conscious).
Robert remained in Broadmoor till he was 33, but somehow made a better fist of life outside that institution than could have been predicted, achieving an ultimate heroism.
I am astonished at the depth of information that the author was able to gather. The most interesting part, in my opinion, relates to history and lives of the people at that time and the details of the justice and mental health systems.
I just really didnt *get* this book at all.
it was interesting in respect if its historical recall however It got utterly lost in that aspect of it rather than tbe story of the boys which was dragged out relentlessly.
I found the narrator very hard to listen to at first, with every sentence sounding like it was almost ending on an exclamation mark. An odd listen to say the least. if you want an indepth knowledge about the mental institutions of the time, year on year, then it may be for you, but this dragged on for nearly 10 chapters.
It then goes on to give you a blow by blow of the Somme and not necessarily about either of the boys first introduced to you in the opening chapters. it merely touches on them from time to time.
It started with a promising storyline about the murder of a mother and ended up I am not quite sure where.
historical facts cleverly woven together to make a very interesting insight into Victorian life and the remarkable life of one man
The title of the book leads you expect maybe of an unsolved mystery from the past, or maybe fantastical recurrences in the past of horrific deeds performed by demonic children.
More akin to clickbait, the book ends up on a route of the history of a boy who once had committed the dreadful crime of matricide rather than focusing much on the crime itself.
The meticulous obsession the author has for the titular boy results in fact in a historical autobiography written in a narrative sense not too much different to that found in fictional novels.
I found myself enjoying the book more once I switched mindsets to that of enjoying a historical documentary from one of enjoying exposure media. It's what I'd recommend anyone who listens or reads this book take too.
Umm! I am a little confused as to how I feel about the book. It's not quite what I expected, there were parts I liked and parts I felt were unrelated to the theme (or rather my expectation of the theme) of the book...and yet I also found it interesting on a social history point of view, particularly of Broadmoor). The epilogue really brought it together and helped me understand the journey the author went through to bring this story to us. Still confused with how I feel about it though 😁
The basic story was interesting but l found it slightly annoying that it was padded out with many extraneous details not really relating to Robert Coombes himself. It was fairly well narrated but as it was written by a woman l would have preferred a female voice, particularly where the narrator refers to herself. One had to keep reminding oneself that she was a woman albeit with a male voice.
I've listened to it twice.
The absolute attention to detail and thorougher research on this darkest of tales, I'm not prepared to give anything away about the plot. Others have in their reviews.What I got from this book more than anything is that the author had an almost preternatural connection with the "villain" and to have followed his life from birth to death and all that happened in between.The circumstances of The Wicked Boy's crime sound true even today, over 115 years ago. Then they had Penny Dreadful's.. Today we have the internet.
The only downside is the Director. The narrator, Jot Davies sounded more like he was narrating a TV documentary.This is NOT a problem with the overall narration but with the direction...
It made me think that not all people are born bad. and that even those who are guilty of the despicable act of matricide are capable of acts of true heroism
As the old saying goes. You have to go thru a whole lot of Shawshank before you get to the redemption. But as with the book, and the film, the ending is wonderful.Throw caution to the wind, buy this book. I promise. You wont be disappointed
Although this book might broadly be classified as 'true crime', it is so much more. It is the intriguing story of a life but it is also a social history. It is both tragic and inspirational, but to say more would necessarily include spoilers which would be particularly ruinous in this case because the outcome is so unexpected. The book is beautifully and sympathetically written, and I became more deeply fascinated as the story unfolded. The best is at the end, a very moving conclusion to a most unusual story. As for the narration, I was unsure of Jot Davies' style to start with, but very quickly became a fan - his timing is spot-on, he captures changing moods, and he is superb with accents and voices and foreign words - I'm keen to hear more from him.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.