The Wicked Boy

  • by Kate Summerscale
  • Narrated by Jot Davies
  • 10 hrs and 13 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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.

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What the Critics Say

"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)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Not what I expected from the title

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.
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- Kirstine

Interesting tale

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.
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- Rachel

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-07-2016
  • Publisher: Audible Studios for Bloomsbury