ARC Review: The Wicked Boy (The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer) by Kate Summerscale


TITLE & AUTHOR: The Wicked Boy (The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer) by Kate Summerscale
PUBLISHER: Penguin Press
EDITION: Hardcover
PUBLISHED: Expected 12 July 2016
PAGES: 400 pages




NETI was given an ARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My ARC was a digital copy for the US release.


Early in the morning of Monday 8 July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his twelve-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 ten 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.


Early in the morning of Monday 8 July 1895, Robert and Nathaniel Coombes dressed themselves, collected the family’s rent book from a room downstairs, and went out to the back yard. It was just after 6 a.m. and already bright and warm.


I really enjoyed The Wicked Boy. Summerscale has obviously done a lot of research for the book and this is filtered into the book with care and skill. I never felt like the research was clogging or slowing down the narrative. The Wicked Boy is full of interesting facts about the case, the lives of two brothers afterwards and life in Victorian times. I found the information about the trial particularly fascinating and how different it was compared to court trials today. The book reminds me of the murder of James Bulger in 1993 for some reason, possibly because the brothers were a similar age to the boys who killed James. I remember how the James Bulger case affected me and I can easily imagine how the murder of Robert and Nattie’s mother would have affected people in Victorian times. My only criticism is that the book was very slow at times. There didn’t seem to be much of a narrative flow. It felt very much like I was reading a step by step account of the trial records. I didn’t find myself getting caught up in the story and none of the characters were more than a silhouette. However, I did enjoy reading the book because it contains so much interesting information.




2 Comments Add yours

  1. A great review – I was particularly interested in this one as it was set in the area that my Grandparents lived although I do like all historical true crime and Kate Summerscale is one of the best in this niche genre.

    1. This is my first book by her but I definitely want to read more.

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