Monday, August 15, 2016

by Kate Summerscale

During the latter part of the Victorian era in England (1890s), schoolboys were snatching up at a tremendous rate something called "penny dreadfuls." They were known as the pulp fiction of the day and caused quite a bit of concern to the general public. Wild adventures, escapism, violence, and murder were the usual subjects. For young lads who were bored by their rote learning in school, the "bloods" (what the boys called them), were a wonderful diversion. Unfortunately many of the boys were heavily influenced by these stories.
Robert Coombes, at age thirteen, was one such boy. He committed matricide by killing his mother. His brother, Nattie (age twelve) was at first considered an accomplice but after Robert confessed that he did it alone, Nattie ended up giving evidence against his brother. 
The trial was a huge sensation. Neither the prosecution nor the defense could figure out what Robert's motive was. The judge sentenced him to be incarcerated in the most famous villainous insane asylum in the country: Broadmoor. Robert would spend seventeen years there. 
Author Kate Summerscale has done it again. She is a master of writing books about murder in the Victorian age. Her most famous one is called The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher and the review is posted in this blog. Kate's meticulous research on the Coombes family, the brothers (most especially Robert), the trial and how to deal with a child criminal, the asylum where Robert would spend a good portion of his life, and what happens to him after his release makes for quite riveting reading. Even though the subject matter is disturbing, you will want to stick with it and find out what kind of man Robert became.
Highly recommended.