Non-fiction book of the month: The Wicked Boy

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When Kate Summerscale's earlier book, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, won the Samuel Johnson Prize, the chair of judges said this: "If someone was nervous about reading a non-fiction book, they would be completely thrilled by this... The plot and the social observation are so well dealt with that you are hardly aware that you are learning all this stuff."

Our non-fiction book of the month for June is in a similar vein. 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 has said that the motivation and momentum of the book was the "puzzle of Robert's character - why he did it." Was it the fault of the 'penny dreadfuls' - the popular (and violent) adventure comics of the time? Or were Robert's genes responsible for his matricidal tendencies? 

We follow Robert and his family through the murder itself, the trial, and, perhaps most interestingly of all, the aftermath. Summerscale exposes what she calls "the trauma in the whole of society", providing insights into the judicial system, the Victorian media, and emerging views on child psychology as well as on mental health in general. Thought-provoking as well as emotional, The Wicked Boy is as compelling as any novel. 

What the critics said:

"Fans of Victorian true crime will certainly enjoy Summerscale's scrupulous and occasionally startling account of Coombes's trial." – Observer

"With her meticulous research, spry prose and eye for the telling detail, no other writer could have made the Coombes case so fascinating and so vivid." – Spectator

About the author

Kate Summerscale is the author of the number-one bestselling The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. It was also a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and adapted into a major ITV drama. Her first book, the bestselling The Queen of Whale Cay, won a Somerset Maughan award and was shortlisted for Whitbread Award for Biography. Her third book Mrs Robinson's Disgrace, was a Sunday Times bestseller.  Kate Summerscale was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2010.  She lives in London. You can find out more about Kate on her website.

You can also listen to Kate talk about the life of Robert Coombes.

What Mumsnetters said about The Suspicions of Mr Whicher:

"Summerscale draws a fascinating portrait of class-riven Victorian society and the birth of investigative police work, and manages to spin a cracking yarn at the same time." - theyoungvisiter

"This was a very good book, a really interesting mix of a particular story, social history and reflections on the origins of the detective story." - Circus

Q&A with Kate:

Kate will be answering questions about The Wicked Boy and her other books, so head over to the discussion thread to ask yours by 19 July. We'll post answers to 15 of the best questions in mid-July.

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.

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