Advanced search

Non-fiction book of the month: The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale. Read the answers back from Kate!

(44 Posts)
SorchaMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 06-Jun-16 18:19:53

Our non-fiction book choice for June is by a modern master of the genre, Kate Summerscale. Author of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, her latest page-turner promises to be just as fascinating.

The Wicked Boy is the gripping true story of a horrifying Victorian murder case: that of Robert Coombes, a 13-year-old boy on trial for the murder of his own mother. Whilst the reader is not spared the details of this gruesome crime, the book is about much more than a cold-blooded killing. Summerscale carefully examines each of the contributing factors to the crime, to great effect. To find out more and apply for your copy of this beguiling and brilliant book, head to the giveaway page.

Kate will be answering questions about The Wicked Boy and her other books, post yours here by 19 July. We'll put up answers to 15 of the best questions in August.

You don't have to win a copy to take part in the discussion or ask Kate a question. Everyone is welcome to come and discuss the book. If you miss out on a free one, you can buy a copy.

This giveaway is now closed.

00100001 Tue 07-Jun-16 09:28:06


ChessieFL Tue 07-Jun-16 12:52:09

Me too,already have this on my to-read list!

voyager50 Wed 08-Jun-16 07:57:53

This sounds really intriguing! Fingers crossed for a win!

Heinz57 Tue 21-Jun-16 13:45:39

Just received my free copy! It looks v intriguing having flicked through the first couple of pages - can't wait till bedtime!

Uneasypeasy Tue 21-Jun-16 18:27:41

My copy just arrived - total surprise, I must have missed the email! It starts with maps and family trees ... I'm going to enjoy this I think!

wallers5 Fri 24-Jun-16 16:37:22

I have just finished The Wicked Boy. What an amazing book & an amazing ending. I had never heard of the 'Penny Dreadfuls' magazine or called Penny Bloods! for boys & young men who like blood & guts. It shows the horrible life some children had in the 19th century. It is all a bit grisly & rather shocking.
The older boy Robert ends up in Broadmoor & that must have been scary for a youngster.
He gets to Australia & is sent to the awful war in Gallipoli. At last he excels as a Stretcher Bearer. He became a good Musician & befriended a young lad, offering him a home. So in the end it all worked out & his violence disappeared.
The author Kate Summerscale writes with lucidity in her investigation into one of the 19th century's greatest murder mystery with a thirteen year old boy at it's heart.

00100001 Fri 24-Jun-16 18:54:36

I never got a copy sad

ChessieFL Fri 24-Jun-16 19:21:24

I didn't either! sad

cavylover Thu 30-Jun-16 19:23:42

Very pleased to have received this book and upon reading it I wasn't disappointed. A great deal of research about the subject matter has gone into the book with reasons as to why a child would kill his mother and leave the body rotting in the house, the Court proceedings examining the case for the prosecution and defence, the time spent in Broadmoor with great detail about his contemporaries and his later life. Author sticks to the facts and the book is all the better for it!
Thank you

FoxInABox Fri 01-Jul-16 14:26:43

Received my copy last week and finished the book this morning. Having never heard of the Coombes murder before, I started the book completely naive to what lay in store. Kate summerscale has clearly done very thorough research- a lot of the book is details of the time, things that would have been going on around Robert Coombes as well as the political backdrop.
I imagine this research must have been very difficult given the subject matter was over one hundred years old, I would love to know how long the research for the book took? What drew you to the Coombes story? There is such detail that it is amazing to think she has found all this out over a century later.

A really harrowing real life story, but nonetheless with an ultimately positive outcome.

coffeeandbubbles Fri 01-Jul-16 15:30:00

I have got my copy and am already several chapters in. Am finding it very easy to read, so far the storyline is intriguing and almost hard to believe it's true!! I can already tell it's well researched and am looking forward to seeing how it all ends!

princessgray Fri 01-Jul-16 21:36:18

I haven't finished this yet. So far I am finding it very scholarly and meticulously researched but it is not easy to read.

RoastieToastieReastie Sat 02-Jul-16 08:12:11

Received my copy thanks and am making good progress with it. Fascinating look at the social history of the time and it must've taken so much research to write.

I'd like to know what fascinates Kate about the Victorian era and whether she's always been interested in this period of history (given her other books in the same era)? I'd also like to know where she first heard about the story Coombes family and how long the research took (it must've been a huge undertaking) and whether she had followed in the footsteps by visiting any of the places in the book and what it felt like being there knowing what had gone on.

Imfinehowareyou Sat 02-Jul-16 09:43:35

Thanks for my copy. This is definitely. one of those books that is going to stay with me. I now want to read Kate's other books.

The amount of research has really blown me away. It has been a real eye opener into the preparation needed for writing. I never realised that authors would be tracking people down from just a name and travelling to their country to find more information.

Now to the book. It was written in a very easy style so you flew through it. I really liked the illustrations/photo's. I felt they were crucial to the book.

I began by despising Robert and ended by being really impressed by his character. I was quite upset when Kate revealed his past to the children of the boy Robert cared for. It was as if there were two Robert Coombes and the one in Australia bore no resemblance to the British one.

The description of Broadmoor was incredibly fascinating. I had assumed it was a vile place but it was anything but (well, Block two at least).

At first I felt that the character assumptions of Emily Coombes were unfair but you are left wondering what life was like for the boys. Robert did not turn into a criminal. He was a very impressive adult. I wondered if anyone recognised him as an adult as the crime was so well known. Did Robert live such a private life as an adult (after the army) because he wanted to be invisible? There is also the question of why he remained single. Was this to stay private or linked to his upbringing (sharing a bed with his mother)?

I had no knowledge of Australia's part in the war apart from Anzac Day being mentioned on Home and Away blush so i found that section revealing.

This book is crammed with information yet so easy to read. The insights into Victorian London/the docks/expectations of children followed by the trial and Broadmoor then leading on into emigration to Australia and the War. Absolutely fascinating.

I have two questions:
1) Kate, did you enjoy the research more than writing the book?
2) Do you wish you hadn't told Harry's children about Robert's past?

JengaWenga Sun 03-Jul-16 20:30:18

Thank you for my copy. I have read the first six chapters and am finding it a really interesting read. The details of the case itself are fascinating and Victorian London is really brought to life. I'm looking forward to getting further into the book.

minsmum Sun 03-Jul-16 22:34:58

I have very nearly finished this and am enjoying it very much. It's going to be one of my favourite books this year.
My question is how do you choose which subject to write about, there must be any number of incidents that have happened like this over the years. Presumably you only know about their later life after you have made the decision to write the book.
Sorry second question I assumed that children who murdered would be dealt with more severely in that era than in the present. Were you surprised that they weren't

stickygotstuck Mon 04-Jul-16 11:34:53

I have received my copy - thank you!

I am only a couple of chapters in, but first impressions are very promising.

RuthCart Mon 04-Jul-16 12:05:26

I gave my copy to my father in law to read as he is a big fan of the author. He hasn't been dissapointed and I'm looking forward to discussing it with him after I've finished it

smallchanceofrain Mon 04-Jul-16 12:38:21

Thanks for my copy. I've almost finished it and I've found it gripping. It's interesting how relevant it is to society now and the difficult question of how to deal with children who murder. The only thing that has disappointed me so far is not knowing his motive. I keep waiting for the big reveal but it hasn't happened yet. It's clear that a lot of research has informed this book so I guess the author is mainly trying to write about facts but it's frustrating not to have a bit of psychology to know why he did what he did.

ireadnovels Mon 04-Jul-16 12:45:10

Thank you mums net for sending me The Wicked BOY. This novel is a true-crime. Author Kate Summerscale writes a masterpiece. In 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his twelve-year-old brother Nattie are swept up in a criminal trail. I highly recommend The Wicked Boy that is published by Bloomsbury.

eatsleepfeedrepeat Mon 04-Jul-16 19:13:36

I'm only a few chapters in so have tried to skim this discussion without getting too many spoilers! Really interesting seeing the story unfold, wondering where its going to go as it seems that there is more to the story than the initial confessions would suggest. At the moment am only managing a few pages a night before bed as my baby has decided that sleep is for the weak... reading it at a slow pace means that although all the historical detail is fascinating (politics, sport, etc of the time) I would like to get to the point and find out whats going on! Sure that if I could read it at a greater pace this wouldn't bother me, as the writing itself is light and very readable. Overall an interesting book, outside of my normal genres (don't often read anything historical although I enjoyed Mr Whicher which is why I applied for this book).

Pigeonpea Mon 04-Jul-16 21:15:48

I've almost finished this book and I am surprised at my reaction - 'how awful that a child should kill his mother in the 1800's?!' - I had to re-check myself and remember that it has always happened, sadly.
I've been fascinated by the different courts needed to attend, the flight of fancy in evidence given and used and dismissed
I found myself googling the points made and was fascinated by the amount of documents that Kate must have read through.
I love the fact that it's true, it's historical, yet so well written as a book you can get into

katiebasey Tue 05-Jul-16 07:17:16

Thank you so much for my copy, must admit I have sat reading instead of doing my chores, the best book I have read . I have been fascinated all the way through, the Victorian era holds a fascination for me. Well written and very enjoyable read. Would highly recommend, have now passed the book onto my mum .

Noideaatall Thu 07-Jul-16 10:09:14

I'm about half way through, and also wondering about motive. So far there hasn't been any discussion of that but I would like to know more about how he ended up there. There also doesn't seem to be much general sense of horror about the crime in the neighbourhood, more curiousity. The only person really shocked by it (so far) seems to be the father! Was that typical of the era? Or is the emotion deliberately understated to focus on the facts of the case? Great book though, I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now