The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

So far, I’ve only had one experience with true crime through NetGalley. It piqued my interest enough for me to explore other novels that fit into this genre. I thought this one was quite unique because not only is it true crime, it is from an incident that took place in the Victorian era in London. History was always one of my favorite subjects so I was excited to read this novel and see how the author would portray this iconic crime.

Early morning on Monday 8 July 1895, 13-year-old Robert Coombes and his 12-year-old brother Nattie left their house in East London to attend a cricket match at Lord’s. Upon questioning, they told their neighbours that their father was away on a sea voyage and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the course of 10 days, these 2 brothers spend money extravagantly and begin to pawn valuables to fund their excursions. But eventually, people began to get suspicious of this scenario. When the police were finally called to investigate, the discovery something that sends the city – and the press – into a mad frenzy, sweeping Robert and Nattie along into a criminal trial for a crime that seems straight out of the ‘penny dreadful’ novels that Robert loved to read.

The premise pretty much tells you everything about the story. On that note, I should probably warn you that this story isn’t going to be suspenseful; everything is pretty much told by the synopsis and becomes obvious as you continue to read the facts presented (and you could always Google it). The author has clearly done her research when it came to this story. She had a lot of transcripts from the court and included detailed accounts of witnesses to create a cohesive story. There were times when I felt as if the author was giving me too much detail; there were some facts that I really could not care about, but because there were so many instances of this, I felt like I was plodding through this novel. The case itself was interesting and the author did an excellent job of portraying the sensation through all of the different lenses; there was no bias or partiality that I could detect, which was so good to see because it allowed me to form my own assumptions. I was also happy to see that the author ventured beyond the case and described the aftermath and the changes this crime presented to the lives of the boys. The book is dry, I’ll admit. It reads like a textbook full of inane details, hiding those little nuggets of gold that actually hold your interest. Unfortunately, that’s not my style of book so it made it feel a bit like a chore to get through. Overall, I think the author chose a fascinating case to explore and she did a great job in covering all of the bases and portraying a cohesive story that looks at every angle. However, the overwhelming amount of (sometimes useless) detail combined with the factual writing style made it a slow read to get through.

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