Monday, June 6, 2016

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

I first heard of this book in an article about the penny dreadful, and luckily for me, it was available on NetGalley.

The Wicked Boy is a true-crime story, following Robert Coombes, who killed his mother in 1895. At that time, penny dreadfuls, which were serialised adventure stories popular with boys, were partially blamed for the murder. But, Kate Summerscale shows that this may not be the case.

I'll admit, the book was hard to get into. I'm used to the author liberally inserting him/herself into the narrative (the "this is how hard I worked to find the information" shtick), and Kate Summerscale's no-nonsense account was different from what I expected. Plus, she started from the aftermath of the crime, so I had to adapt to a completely different world instantaneously.

But, I quickly adjusted, and I realised that I like this method. True, the style is rather understated, but it helps bring a sense of rationality to the end.

I do wish, however, that there was a bit more investigation into Robert and Nattie Coombes home life. There are hints that they are turbulent, but it's not discussed and proved as conclusively as I hoped it would be. Most of the time, this was a narrative account of the affair.

Oh, and the epilogue was great, because it showed a different side to Robert Coombes (and marked the first and only appearance of the author). It suggested that in the end, the sentence he got might have helped, and that he wasn't a "wicked boy" after all.

And by the way, I really like the way Broadmare (asylum for the criminally insane) works. It's humane, and I think it does help with the rehabilitation.

If you're looking for a nuanced view of a Victorian matricide, I highly recommend this book.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.


  1. This story sounds so fascinating. I imagine I would have the same reaction as you initially. I am glad you ended up enjoying the style of writing though and liked the book.

    1. It was! I hope you have the chance to read it!


I really do appreciate all comments, and I'll try my best to reply within 24 hours!