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The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  4,943 ratings  ·  883 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 378 pages
Published July 12th 2016 by Penguin Press (first published May 5th 2016)
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Average rating 3.47  · 
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Mar 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
In 1895 Robert Coombes (aged 13) stabbed his mother to death and calmly went on living in the house with his brother Nathaniel (12) having days out at the cricket and living on money stolen from his mother. His father was away at sea and Robert told nosy neighbours that his mother had gone to Liverpool to visit a sick relative. Eventually, some 10 days later a nasty smell led a suspicious aunt to discover the body and Robert freely confessed to the murder.

This little gem of a book is not so
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it

This true crime book is about Robert Coombes, who killed his mother when he was thirteen years old. If Robert had been hung his story would have ended there, but Robert was spared, and went on to become a respected member of society. If you're a person who prefers minimal information before reading a book, this review will contain spoilers.


On July 8, 1895 Robert Coombes (13 years old) and his brother Nathaniel (12 years old), of Plaistow, East London,
May 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Summer 1895. In the working-class East End of London, Robert Coombes has stabbed his mother. Robert,14 years old, claims that his mother Emily beat his younger brother Mattie for stealing food.

Emily has been stabbed to death in her upstairs bedroom but Robert creates a web of lies and deceptions to account for Emily's absence. Robert's seafaring father, away for long periods of time, is unaware of the crime. With the help of a dim witted guardian, the boys manage to live the good life visiting
Mar 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed Kate Summerscales previous books, so I was pleased to get the chance to review her latest, The Wicked Boy. Subtitled, The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer, much of the book took place in Plaistow (coincidentally, the place I lived as a child) and so this book resonated even more with me as I knew all the places mentioned.

This begins on a hot July day in 1895. Two brothers, Robert Coombes (13) and his brother, Nathaniel Nattie (12) are home with their mother. Their father, a
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Nice little nonfiction book. It's main point deals with the sentencing of a boy of 13 for the murder of his mother , this is a real case. The first half of the book deals with all intricacies of the case, the before, the middle and the trial. The other half of the book deals with the after for both of the brothers (the main characters are 2 brothers, only one is sentenced) and how their lives affected everyone around them. The reason I gave the book 3 stars is because while this book is well ...more
Sep 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Not as good as her earlier true-life Victorian murder mystery, The Suspicions of Mr.Whicher, but quite compelling.
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating true account of thirteen year old Robert Coombes who murdered hes mother in the summer of 1895.
The book follows hes trial subsequent life after these events.

I practically liked how Summerscale transports the reader to that period in history, as for 10 days prior to the discovery of the body Robert and younger brother Nattie went on a spending spree.
Everything from the pre-decimal currency to the boys trip to Lords for the cricket is well explained.

I felt like Id learnt a lot about
May 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime, 2016
Boys will be boys...

For ten days in the summer of July 1895, two boys spent their time roaming round coffee shops and attending cricket matches, and telling anyone who asked that their mother had gone to visit relatives in Liverpool. They slept downstairs in the back parlour of their house, with a family friend who had come at their request to look after them. Meantime, an unpleasant smell was beginning to seep from the house, becoming so bad eventually that the neighbours complained to the
In East London in the summer of 1895 13-year-old Robert Coombes murdered his mother. His guilt was never in question, and he never denied the charges when the death was eventually discovered. For ten days after the murder, his mother's body lay rotting in the summer heat in an upstairs bedroom, whilst Robert, his younger brother Nattie and a simple-minded colleague of his father's whom Robert conned into taking care of the boys in their mother's 'absence', went to watch cricket at Lord's, to the ...more
Dec 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This story chronicles the life of Robert Coombes from his 13th year and his involvement in the murder of his mother. It's well researched, interesting to read and touches on some interesting concepts of psychology and behavior that were just beginning to be documented/researched in the 1890s. It all comes together for an engaging read.
However, I never got to really know these characters and the concepts touched upon were just that....touched upon. The connection between the concept and this
Feb 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: true-crime
A shocking story of a child who commited a horrific crime, his life in prison, and an unlikely journey to redemption.
Alice (Married To Books)
Listened to the audiobook via BorrowBox!

3.5 stars!

I listened to this in a single day on a whim and it was... chilling as heck. The pacing was very slow, however, the thriller/historical aspect was there in strong waves. The real-life story of a Victorian child murderer who murdered his Mum in London in 1895. He's only 13, but is very crafty and ropes his younger brother into his lies and wicked deeds. We go from the family home to the courtrooms, to the English countryside and finally arriving
♥ Sandi ❣
3.75 stars

Based on the life of Robert Coombes, a child in the slums of London in 1895. His infamous claim to fame is the murder of his mother at age 13. The book follows his life as a youngster, his trial, his years in an insane asylum, his release, his years in the war and his stoic life once he settles down as a man.

There are parts of this book that I really enjoyed reading. Then there are parts that I felt were almost 100% repetition. The book gives a lot of back story - which I enjoyed -
Sep 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
Thought it would be in the same vein as In Cold Blood or Compulsion. But it was more of an historical and judicial essay. Too much cold facts and dates and too little emotional implication.
This was my first Kate Summerscale book, and, I must say, I was deeply impressed. Assiduously researched, The Wicked Boy starts off with the murder of Emily Coombes in 1895 by either one or both of her sons, aged 12 and 13. But the book is so much more than that. It follows the two boys during the ten days between the date of the crime and the discovery; it follows the boys through the court system and its aftermath; and, finally, shows the courses of the rest of the boys' lives.

Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
I'd like to thank the Penguin Group, The Penguin Press, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Early one morning in the summer of 1865, a thirteen year old Robert Coombes lays beside his mother in bed. The heat of the day is already building towards its suffocating presence and Robert's mother, in her chemise and drawers rather than a nightdress, punches out at the boy beside her as he kicks about in bed. Minutes later Robert makes his way to a
Dec 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: true-crime
Kate Summerscale has an easy, elegant way of writing.

As in some of her previous books she has taken an event from Victorian England and meticulously researched it to produce a detailed look at the period and the 'crime' involved.

Her skill is in the detail and I really enjoyed the first half of the book - her description of late Victorian working class London is excellent and we really feel we are looking inside the small house where Robert murdered his mother.

However, the latter part of the
May 29, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three and a half stars.

Victorian London is transfixed with a new court case. Thirteen year old Robert Coombes and his twelve year old brother, Nattie, stand in the dock and the public are hooked on the sensation.

Kate Summerscale's writing is matter of fact at times, but I can appreciate her reasons for this. Her explicit writing detailing the crime mirrors the Penny Dreadful novels attributed by some to playing a part in the case. The court account is engrossing and thoughtfully written.
Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
"You are a bad, wicked boy," she told Robert. "You knew your Ma was dead in the room and you ought to have told me."

"Auntie," he replied. "Come to me and I will tell you the truth and tell you all about it."

At 13, Robert Coombes was convicted of killing his mother. Her body was kept locked up in the upstairs bedroom for 10 days before the death was discovered.

Kate Summerscale's straightforward narrative non-fiction account is an interesting peek into Victorian London and follows Robert through
MaryannC. Book Freak
A totally fascinating read about a young Victorian child Robert Coombes, who brutally stabbed his mother one day in July, 1895. While the book goes into specific details of the crime and all it's gore, it also gives us a look into the everyday conditions of London's society which was often times brutal itself if you happened to be among the poor working classes. What I enjoyed about the book was that the author chronicled the life of Robert after he was sentenced and serving his time at ...more
This book, this case of a boy (or boys) killing his mother, is more proof that playing violent video games shapes young minds in ways that lead to violen Sorry? Oh, it's not 1995, but 1895? Oh. Right.

This book, this case of a boy killing his mother, is more proof that reading sensational literature shapes young minds in ways that lead to violence and depravity. As Louisa May Alcott said, "She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain."

The killing at the center of this book is
Diane Lynch
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Awesome recreation of Robert Coombes life from the age of 13 in the late 1800s. Wicked Boy? After you read the book you will wonder who the wicked one was. Robert murdered his mom. Wound up in the best wing of an insane asylum. Very bright and continue to grow into a man most people would be proud of. WWI Vet. His entire life is reconstructed through amazing research. The only thing that doesn't fit his the murder of his mom. Or does it. The sociology at the time was so primitive compared to ...more
This book explores a fascinating case of matricide by a 13-year-old boy in Victorian London. It features surprisingly compassionate attitudes among late-19th-century asylum workers, retrograde attitudes among lawyers and judges, and doesnt provide any easy answers regarding why some children enact horrible crimes.

However, so much of the writing is so incredibly dry and bland as to make a lot of the narrative read like an extended court transcript. I can imagine that when an author approaches
Digital Book Freak
Review rating: 4 stars.


This is a very detailed novel about the lives of Robert Coombes, and his brother, Nattie.

The boys told neighbours and friends that their mother, Emily, is visiting family in Liverpool. But after 10 days, when a pungent smell coming from their home, puts the neighbours and friends in a frantic state, a horrible discovery is made.

This is for sure a page turner, a story that stays with you long after you've finished reading it and an eye opener to how innocent children
Mar 06, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
I did not finish this. It was painfully boring... my book club all agreed and we switched to another book. I love a good non-fiction story, but this one is not worth my time. I don't understand the high ratings.
Katherine Addison
Like her previous book, The Suspicions of Mr WhicherThe Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective (which is excellent), this is a book about Victorian England, children, and murder. Specifically children who commit murder. Constance Kent (in TSoMrW) murdered her half-brother. Robert Coombes, the eponymous wicked boy, murdered his mother (with the clear connivance of his younger brother). Summerscale starts with the murder and traces Robert's life ...more
Angus McKeogh
May 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
This is the second of her Victorian-type, historical mysteries and unfortunately I havent found either all that interesting. Perhaps its the lack of information. Perhaps its the court transcript that reveals nothing. Or maybe its just the story that veers towards the boring after several chapters. Whatever it was, just not a book that grabbed my attention and held it. ...more
interesting book about the life of robert coombes who murdered his mother in 1895 and the events leading to and after the murder to the trial at the old bailey and his time at broadmoor and WW1 and australia.
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A gripping tale and a marvellous achievement

I bought The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer on a whim when it was an Audible deal of the day. That, it turns out, was a very good decision. It's superb.

The Wicked Boy of the title is 13 year old Robert Coombes, who early on the morning of Monday, 8 July 1895, along with his 12 year old brother Nattie, travelled from their terraced house in East London to watch a cricket match at Lord's. Their father had gone to sea the previous
Nicola Mansfield
Aug 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book! page-turner I read over a few days. First and foremost it is a social history of the periods 1895 to the early 1940s. This history follows the lifespan of an obscure but fascinating individual, Robert Coombes, 13, who murdered his mother. There is the story of the murder, the trial with quotes from the transcript and the aftermath of verdict and sentencing. During this period we learn so much of living in east London, the first applications of new child protection laws and ...more
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Kate Summerscale (born in 1965) is an English writer and journalist.
She won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction in 2008 with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House and won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1998 (and was shortlisted for the 1997 Whitbread Awards for biography) for the bestselling The Queen of Whale Cay, about Joe Carstairs, 'fastest woman on water'.
As a

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