I’m a huge fan of Kate Summerscale’s work and have been since The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. I’ve been hoping that she’ll write something that’s equally as brilliant and, although I’m not sure The Wicked Boy is, it’s definitely a good read that’ll keep you hooked until the end.
Like Mr Whicher, The Wicked Boy deals with a child murderer, but this time the suspects are known: a pair of brothers, aged 12 and 13, are accused of murdering their mother. Her corpse has been found upstairs in the family house during a heatwave a week after her death. In the meantime, the boys have been enjoying cricket matches at Lord’s and roaming the streets of West Ham in the company of a family friend. The older brother, Robert, is eventually brought to trial for the crime and ends up in Broadmoor.
The book, like others written by Summerscale, explores the class dynamics of Victorian society at the same time reading more like a novel. The timescale of the book runs from the 1890s to the 1930s and takes in topics as diverse as attitudes towards mental illness, World War I and the perceived effects of Penny Dreadfuls on young boys.
Although it took me a while to get settled into the narrative- after all, there was no ‘mystery’ here, the reader knows whodunnit straight away pretty much-this is the story of a young boy living a life which on the surface seems respectable, but which has hidden levels of brutality; in its way, this is a tale which unmasks many of the hypocrisies and hidden murkiness of late Victorian life. The story of Robert Coombes’ life is one of horror and redemption and it makes a compelling read. I loved it.