• The Wicked Boy

  • The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer
  • By: Kate Summerscale
  • Narrated by: Corrie James
  • Length: 9 hrs and 23 mins
  • 3.9 out of 5 stars (318 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Early in the morning of Monday, July 8, 1895, 13-year-old Robert Coombes and his 12-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 neighbors, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool.

Over the next 10 days, Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning their parents' valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside. But as the sun beat down on the Coombes house, a strange smell began to emanate from the building. When the police were finally called to investigate, the discovery they made sent the press into a frenzy of horror and alarm, and Robert and Nattie were swept up in a criminal trial that echoed the outrageous plots of the penny dreadful novels that Robert loved to read.

In The Wicked Boy, Kate Summerscale has uncovered a fascinating true story of murder and morality. It is not just a meticulous examination of a shocking Victorian case but also a compelling account of its aftermath and of man's capacity to overcome the past.

©2016 Kate Summerscale (P)2016 Recorded Books

What listeners say about The Wicked Boy

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing True Story

The research and detail that has gone into this work is stunning. I enjoyed every passage. I really appreciate the author bringing this story to life from a newspaper account. The descriptions of turn of the century life and institutions are wonderful. Thank you!

13 people found this helpful

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A Historical “True Crime” with So Much More

This wasn’t just about a murder and the trial that followed. The author went so far beyond, and followed what happened for the rest of the Wicked Boy’s life, which was an eye opener. It truly informed how the reader sees the crime and the boy who at the center of the story.

There was what might be considered extraneous information about characters who might have crossed paths with him, but I was fascinated by their stories, and was glad they were included. Very goal oriented readers might call this padding. I certainly will not. I listened straight through, and highly recommend this book to others.

11 people found this helpful

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I kept waiting for it to get good.. it never did.

Any additional comments?

The source material seemed so rich and riveting, but the writing and narration was boring and flat that I couldn't really get into it. Even the things that should have been exciting (the murder, the trial, the war...) were described with the same even tone as the descriptions of every day habits. I cannot figure out why people love this book so much?? It honestly was not that interesting.

9 people found this helpful

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Interesting biography that left me with questions

As is my wont, I'm far less demanding about the narrator for non-fiction. She has a pleasant, understandable voice with a bit a variance in voices when reading dialogue. I have no complaints.

It took me some time to come to terms with the reality that this book is not, in fact, a true crime book. This is a biography.

Now, in the early sections of the book there is a large focus on Robert Coombs's crime and the aftermath of it. This section is straight reporting, full of facts and details of the crime, it's discovery, the trial, and after.

I found all the details about subsidiary characters a bit detracting, but at the same time it all added depth to the sum of Coombs's life.

In the end, with all the information we have here, I'm left with a LOT of questions about Coombs and what really happened. As a child, he very much came off as a psychotic sociopath.

Yet, by all accounts he eventually grew into a healthy, productive member of society and even seems a bit altruistic.

Unfortunately, there aren't likely any answers to be found to my questions.

In the end, this book was fascinating and in some ways challenges a lot of assumptions. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime, particularly if you'd like to see an account from the same time period as Jack the Ripper but with a very different (and much more positive) ending.

7 people found this helpful

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Full of Surprises

As in her book about Mr. Wicher, K. Summerscale challenged many of my assumptions about how people lived, their attitudes and what they believed in the pre-WWII British Empire. I am amazed by the evident capacity for kindness and understanding practised by many Victorians for even the most wretched of their fellows.

7 people found this helpful

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Sort of Painful

Moderately interesting story, writing can be excruciating at times with too many details that don't add to anything. Awful ending that won't seem to die and then just does. Narration is monotoned and boring.

4 people found this helpful

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Well done!

Fascinating story, well written and well narrated.
Kate Summerscale has done a masterful job researching and retelling this story and the surprising twist that follows.

2 people found this helpful

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Too Much Filler

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

There just wasn't enough story to fill a book. The author filled half of this book with useless information that did not pertain to the central story line of a boy who murdered his mother. I found myself constantly daydreaming and didn't miss a thing because this book is just full of fluff.

What does Corrie James bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Not a thing.

What character would you cut from The Wicked Boy?

All the people who had absolutely no connection to the crime and were just used to fill up pages.

Any additional comments?

Don't waste your credit.

2 people found this helpful

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OMG Why did I buy this damn thing

I am only an hour in and this book is so dry I don't think I'm gonna be able to finish it. The only reason I gave it 2 stars is because the narrator has an English accent and that seems to annoy me less than an American one… even though I'm American lol

1 person found this helpful

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Not enough info on the Wicked Boy to write a book

My biggest issue w/this book is the time spent on Penny Dreadfuls. They were told is such great detail that they were obviously used as a filler.

The info out on Robt. Combes is limited.

1 person found this helpful