Five years ago I reviewed a book by Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. It was an account of a real crime, the murder of a child, investigated by a real detective, Jonathan ‘Jack’ Whicher. The book was a very full account of the circumstances of the child’s death, murdered by someone within the family home – servant or sibling, the investigation which was among the first proper scientific police investigations, and a conclusion about what really happened. It was a fascinating book, a fascinating case, but I felt that Kate Summerscale overwrite it. She had done an incredible amount of research, into even the most trivial aspect of the whole story, but the amount of detail was, I felt, overwhelming. I enjoyed the book but must admit, I felt a little weary by the end, and actually had to force myself to finish it to find out what conclusion Summerscale had reached.
For my new history book club we are reading another book by her, ‘The Wicked Boy’; it is similar in that it is an account of a real event, a real murder, that of a woman by her thirteen-year-old son, Robert Coombes. It was a dreadful and ghastly murder, with the boy and his younger brother keeping the dead body in the house while they continued to live there. It’s an intriguing story, why would a child murder his mother, an ordinary, caring,, loving mother – as described in the opening chapters of the book. I am about a quarter of the way through and it addictive reading; there is as much detail and research but somehow it’s woven into the narrative so skillfully that it doesn’t slow but enhance the reading.
I will share my thoguhts once I have finished, in the meanwhile here is what I wrote about the Mr Wicher book:
… and here is a link to Kate Summercale’s website: