Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale

Non-Fiction 5*s
Non-Fiction
5*s

I do love Victorian true crime and Kate Summerscale managed to stumble across a fairly obscure one in 1895 West Ham, that of a young boy, thirteen year old Robert Coombes who was accused of murder and stood trial at the Old Bailey on just that charge.

The beauty of Kate Summerscale’s books are the minutiae of detail that surround the actual substance of the book, and this one is no different. The crime in this instance isn’t the puzzle that we met in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, rather this is a book about the attitudes of the day both in the media and those in the legal profession. It also looks at the contemporary view of the medical profession on inherent wickedness including a fairly popular one that considered children little more than wild animals to be tamed.

Robert and his younger brother Nattie Coombes had gone to watch the cricket at Lords in the aftermath of the murder as well as going to the seaside and playing in the vicinity of their home. However as the accused they could not defend themselves in court:

The law barred defendants from testifying, but since Fox, Robert and Nattie had no legal representation they were entitled to question the witnesses that Baggallay called.

Can you imagine boys of thirteen and twelve who had never been in court before having the wherewithal to question witnesses that accused them of murder? I can’t!

The media was less concerned with this fundamental flaw in the proceedings and were instead highly concerned in the ‘penny bloods’ that Robert devoured. When one journalist at St James’s Gazette was tasked with reading the publications he stated the following:

The task was ‘repulsive and depressing’, he said; the writing ‘brutalised my whole consciousness’, reviving ‘the fundamental instinct of savagery inherent in us all It disgusts, but it attracts; as one reads on the disgust lessens and the attraction increases. ‘The Coombes boys, he concluded, ‘with their intelligence scientifically developed at the expense of the ratepayers, had been wound up to regard murder as a highly superior kind of ‘lark’ by a sedulous study of the worst kind of gory fiction and cut-throat newspaper’.

This of course was one of the first generations of children who had been educated at the Board Schools set up in each district. It seems from this piece that there was a general feeling that this money was wasted on the poorer members of society. The biggest concern however was around the number of the publications of penny bloods that were found in Robert and Nattie’s home, their influence was considered by some as the chief catalyst in the murder – not so very different to our own newspapers in recent years lamenting various films and games that were also a big attraction to teenage boys. In fact there were a number of media reports in this book that could quite easily be transported to today’s press with only minor alterations needed to update them!

This book isn’t just about the murder and the trial though it goes on to follow Robert through his life to see what life for a child murderer looked like in Victorian England. The answer may not be quite what you expect! All through this time Kate Summerscale draws comparisons to other happenings of the day, other crimes that filled the courts, the life of those who lived in the same area as the Coombes boys. Nuggets of priceless information abound the pages with subjects quite wide-ranging while always linked the central story but give lovers of historical facts like me a treasure chest of facts to wonder upon.

Each male patient was allocated an ounce of tobacco a week, drawn from the government stock of contraband seized by Customs & Exercise officer.

With so much to absorb, particularly as my maternal ancestors moved to West Ham around the turn of the Twentieth century and in particular one of the newspaper reports featured in this look at crimes at this time involved distant relatives of mine, there was much to keep me entertained and engaged from beginning to end. The End notes are a delight all of their own:

The sun rose at 3:53 a.m. that morning according to the London Standard of 8 July 1895 and set at 8:15 p.m. The Standard of 9 July reported that the temperature on Monday rose to 81 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.

leaving me in no doubt at all regarding the quality of the research undertaken by Kate Summerscale.

I am very grateful for the publishers Penguin Press for allowing me to read a copy of The Wicked Boy ahead of publication on 5 May 2016 although I’m equally excited to receive my own copy which is on pre-order so I can cross reference the end notes side by side with the main chapters for ease. This review is my own, unbiased opinion.

Other Books by Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (April 27)

This Week In Books

Lypsyy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

At the moment I am reading a hard-hitting psychological thriller; White is the Coldest Colour by John Nicholl who worked as a policeman and a child protection officer.

White is the Coldest Colour

Blurb

Be careful who you trust…
The Mailer family are oblivious to the terrible danger that enters their lives when seven-year-old Anthony is referred to the child guidance service by the family GP following the breakdown of his parents’ marriage.
Fifty-eight year old Dr David Galbraith, a sadistic predatory paedophile employed as a consultant child psychiatrist, has already murdered one child in the soundproofed cellar below the South Wales Georgian town-house he shares with his wife and two young daughters.
Anthony becomes Galbraith’s latest obsession and he will stop at nothing to make his grotesque fantasies reality. Amazon

I recently finished Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris which despite not being a book I would have thought to pick up in a bookshop (my copy came unsolicited from the publisher) made for exceptional and thought-provoking reading. My review will follow soon!

Fiver Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain

Blurb


‘There exists in all of us a song waiting to be sung which is as heart-stopping and vertiginous as the peak of the cathedral. That is the meaning of this quiet city, where the spire soars into the blue, where rivers and stories weave into one another, where lives intertwine.’

One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide – a flower seller, a schoolboy, an army wife, a security guard, a widower – all facing their own personal disasters. As one of those lives hangs in the balance, the stories of all five unwind, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life. Amazon

Next I am planning on reading The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale which is due to be published on 5 May 2016.

The Wicked Boy

You can read the synopsis and a short excerpt in yesterday’s post.

What are you reading this week? Do share in the comments box below

Posted in Weekly Posts

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph (April 26)

First Chapter

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

The book I’ve chosen to use this week is a book that I am approaching with a high level of anticipation; The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale who wrote the brilliant non-fiction book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. This should keep me nicely entertained over the Bank Holiday weekend.

The Wicked Boy

Blurb

Early in the morning of Monday 8 July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his twelve-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 neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next ten 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. Amazon

Part i

TEN DAYS IN JULY

THE THREE OF US

Early in the morning of Monday 8 July 1895, Robert and Nathanial Coombes dressed themselves, collected the family’s rent book from a room downstairs, and went out to the back yard, It was just after 6 a.m. and already bright and warm.
Robert was thirteen and Nattie twelve. Their father had gone to sea on Friday, as chief steward on a steamship bound for New York, leaving the brothers and their mother, Emily, at home together. They lived in a small, new, yellow-brick terraced house at 35 Cave Road, Plaistow, a poor but respectable working-class district in West Ham, the biggest borough in the docklands of East London.
In an attempt to attract the attention of their neighbour in number 37, Robert picked up a handful of stones and threw them at the roof of the washhouse next door.

Please note that this is an excerpt from a proof copy

I’m predisposed to love this book, I’m a sucker for well-researched Victorian true-crime and in my opinion Kate Summerscale achieves this without compromising the ‘readability’. Have you read this book? What did you think?

Do you want to know more? Please leave your thoughts and/or links in the comment box below!

Posted in Weekly Posts

Stacking the Shelves (March 19)

Stacking the shelves

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you’re adding to your shelves, be it buying or borrowing. From ‘real’ books you’ve purchased, a book you’ve borrowed, a book you’ve been given or an e-book they can all be shared.

Oh dear, oh dear… since I last did one of these posts I have quite a selection to share with you all this week, but I think you’ll agree they are all worthy additions to the stack!

First up the NetGalley offerings, in no particular order:

A timely addition given my fascination with Victorian poisoners illustrated in my reviews of Last Woman Hanged and Mrs Maybrick I now have a whole century of them in The Secret Poisoner by Linda Stratmann which will be published on 22 March 2016.

The Secret Poisoner

Blurb

Murder by poison alarmed, enthralled, and in many ways encapsulated the Victorian age. Linda Stratmann’s dark and splendid social history reveals the nineteenth century as a gruesome battleground where poisoners went head-to-head with authorities who strove to detect poisons, control their availability, and bring the guilty to justice. She corrects many misconceptions about particular poisons and documents how the evolution of issues such as marital rights and the legal protection of children impacted poisonings. Combining archival research with a novelist’s eye, Stratmann charts the era’s inexorable rise of poison cases both shocking and sad. NetGalley

I have a psychological thriller in the shape of The Missing by C.L. Taylor, an author who has proved herself to me with The Accident and The Lie so my hopes are high for this addition out on 7 April 2016.

The Missing cl

Blurb

You love your family. They make you feel safe. You trust them.
But should you…?
When fifteen-year-old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, his mother, Claire, blames herself. She’s not the only one. There isn’t a single member of Billy’s family that doesn’t feel guilty. But the Wilkinson’s are so used to keeping secrets from one another that it isn’t until six months later, after an appeal for information goes horribly wrong, that the truth begins to surface.
Claire is sure of two things – that Billy is still alive and that her friends and family had nothing to do with his disappearance.
A mother’s instinct is never wrong. Or is it?
Sometimes those closest to us are the ones with the most to hide… NetGalley

I have also been lucky enough to get a copy of Kindred by Steve Robinson, the author who created Jefferson Tayte, a genealogist who uncovers historical mysteries whilst often facing some level of danger in the present, this is his fifth outing. Kindred will be published on 12 April 2016

Kindred

Blurb

Jefferson Tayte is good at finding people who don’t want to be found. For years he has followed faint genealogical trails to reunite families—and uncover long-hidden secrets. But Tayte is a loner, a man with no ties of his own; his true identity is the most elusive case of his career.
But that could all be about to change. Now Tayte has in his possession the beginnings of a new trail—clues his late mentor had started to gather—that might at last lead to his own family. With Professor Jean Summer, his partner in genealogical sleuthing, he travels to Munich to pick up the scent. But the hunt takes them deep into dangerous territory: the sinister secrets of World War II Germany, and those who must keep them buried at any cost.
When their investigations threaten to undermine a fascist organisation, Tayte and Summer know time is running out. Can they find their way to the dark heart of a deadly history before they become its latest victims? NetGalley

Next up is an author whose first two books really impressed me; Mary Kubica’s third novel Don’t You Cry will be published on 12 May 2016.

Blurb

In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she’s the person Quinn thought she knew.
Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbour town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where 18 year old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister.
As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under the stranger’s spell, Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted rollercoaster ride that builds to a stunning conclusion. NetGalley

Lastly from NetGalley a book that I already have on pre-order, The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale, which I’m so excited about.

The Wicked Boy

Blurb

Early in the morning of Monday 8 July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his twelve-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 neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next ten 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. Amazon

Through the post from Penguin UK I got a copy of My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry which is to be published as an eBook on 26 May 2016 with the paperback following in August.

My Husband's Wife

Blurb

It’s the perfect love story.
Lily meets Ed at a party, and on their second date, he proposes. She’s a lawyer, he’s an up-and-coming artist. They own a small but beautiful flat in London and mix with all the right people.
But Lily has a secret. Something from her past, that is soon to collide with her present. And she thinks her new husband is hiding something too…
The vows they made will soon be tested to the very limits.
‘Till death us do part…’
Perfect for readers of Liane Moriarty and Clare Mackintosh, lose yourself in the twist-filled story that everyone’s talking about. Goodreads

From Lovereading UK I was lucky enough to get another book by a favourite author who I discovered last year with The Sudden Departure of the Frasers; The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish will be published on 5 May 2016.

The Swimming Pool

Blurb

In the heady swelter of a London summer, the Elm Hill lido opens.
For teacher Natalie Steele, the school holiday typically means weeks of carefully planned activities with her husband Ed and their daughter Molly. But not this year.
Despite Molly’s extreme phobia of the water, Natalie is drawn to the lido and its dazzling social scene, led by the glamorous Lara Channing. Soon Natalie is spending long, intoxicating days with Lara at the pool – and intimate evenings at her home. Natalie’s real life begins to feel very far away.
But is the new friendship everything it seems? Why is Natalie haunted by memories from another summer years ago? And, without realising, has she been swept dangerously out of her depth? Amazon

And if all of that wasn’t enough I bought a copy of Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge, a book that had been on wishlist for quite some time but this wonderful review by Heavenali (if you haven’t already checked out her wonderful blog, you’re missing out!) meant that I could no longer resist the pull.

Harriet Said

Blurb

A girl returns from boarding school to her sleepy Merseyside hometown and waits to be reunited with her childhood friend, Harriet, chief architect of all their past mischief. She roams listlessly along the shoreline and the woods still pitted with wartime trenches, and encounters ‘the Tsar’ – almost old, unhappily married, both dangerously fascinating and repulsive.
Pretty, malevolent Harriet finally arrives – and over the course of the long holidays draws her friend into a scheme to beguile then humiliate the Tsar, with disastrous, shocking consequences. A gripping portrayal of adolescent transgression, Beryl Bainbridge’s classic first novel remains as subversive today as when it was written. Amazon

I’m so excited about all of these finds that I’m not at all sorry about what has happened to the poor old TBR – more books, more pleasure is the motto for this week!

 

 

PicMonkey Collage TBR

TBR WATCH
Since my last count I have read 6 books, and gained, 8, and DNF 1, so the total has increased overall by 1 giving a total of 172 books!
87 physical books
69 e-books
16 books on NetGalley

 

What have you found to read this week?

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady – Kate Summerscale

Non Fiction 4*s
Non Fiction
4*s

I have to admit that I enjoy a good Victorian scandal, one that ended up in court, made headline news and left reputation tattered and torn, so I settled down to enjoy. What I didn’t bank on was my growing sympathy for poor Isabella’s plight.

The author reveals the background to the story first and we know that Isabella Robinson, a widow with a young son, married Henry Robinson in 1844. A fiercely intelligent and well-read woman it didn’t take her long to realise that perhaps she should have held out for a better match:

He was an ‘uncongenial man’ she wrote in her diary: uneducated, narrow-minded, harsh-tempered, selfish, proud.’ While she yearned to talk about literature and politics, to write poetry, learn languages and read the latest essays on science and philosophy, he was ‘a man who had only a commercial life’

We hear how the couple moved around but the real action starts once they moved to Edinburgh, where with young children in tow they made the acquaintance of Elizabeth Drysdale, a fantastic host who shared her splendid home with her daughter Mary and her son-in-law Edward Lane. Edward Lane had studied to be a lawyer but was now training to be a doctor (these upper middle class men seemed to be eternally switching careers!) With Henry often away on business which was to design and build ships and mills for sugar cane it is clear that Isabella craved company, what she soon commits in writing is that she particularly craved a particular type of company from Mr Edward Lane.

I’m not going to lie, although by the end I had a lot of sympathy for Isabella, she led a life at that time which many could only have wondered at; she enjoyed her children’s company, was forever being entertained, going on holiday and able to read and contemplate her navel and commit those thoughts to her diary, whilst being waited upon hand and foot. But, and here is where things get far more complex, she had nothing to call her own. Indeed her fateful marriage to Henry had been partly bought about that she wasn’t an attractive prospect, a widow with a child, especially as her deceased husband had settled most of his money on the offspring from his first wife. Henry was no saint, he had offspring by an unmarried woman and was clearly after the money Isabella was given by her family, an amount settled yearly to avoid the fact that otherwise she had nothing under the law of the land at that time. Isabella was one of the many unlucky women who had no outlet for her intelligence, although I have to say at times her ‘poor me’ attitude grated. But she was stuck, divorce was practically impossible until the summer of 1858. In the end it was Henry that applied to divorce Isabella using the evidence from he own diary as proof.

This book is teaming with social history particularly that of the richer members of society at this time, and it is this that really made this book so fascinating for me and kept me reading, especially at the beginning when at times I tired at times of Isabella, although all that changed when we got to court! During the unfolding of the story as told in main, through the words of Isabella, although I was surprised to hear that the original diary no longer exists, there are snapshots of contemporary Victorian life infused with the story of Isabella’s disgrace at her own hand. A woman who is judged not only in the court room but by her peers across the land as snippets of her diary make their way into the newspapers.

I love the style of writing, there is no emphasising certain facts in this books just a clear and neutral retelling of a woman’s life, her choices and the consequences. The additional historical details all of which are impeccably researched include atheism, phrenology, water treatments, insanity and of course divorce law which make this one of the most educational books of the Victorian period and far more readily digested than dry facts.

There is no-one who quite manages to keep their voice so neutral and yet deliver such a well-researched and compelling story as Kate Summerscale and although I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the Suspicions of Mr Whicher this was a personal choice of subject rather than delivery. I am however delighted to hear from dear Fiction Fan that Kate Summerscale has a new Victorian crime to delight us with in May; The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer is on pre-order!

 

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (February 10)

This Week In Books

Hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

I’ve just started the latest book by fellow Channel Islander Rachel Abbott; Kill Me Again.

Kill Me Again

When your life is a lie, who can you trust?
When Maggie Taylor accepts a new job in Manchester, she is sure it is the right move for her family. The children have settled well although her husband, Duncan, doesn’t appear to be so convinced.
But nothing prepares her for the shock of coming home from work one night to find that Duncan has disappeared, leaving their young children alone. His phone is dead, and she has no idea where he has gone, or why. And then she discovers she’s not the only one looking for him.
When a woman who looks just like Maggie is brutally murdered and DCI Tom Douglas is brought in to investigate, Maggie realises how little she knows about Duncan’s past. Is he the man she loves? Who is he running from?
She doesn’t have long to decide whether to trust him or betray him. Because one thing has been made clear to Maggie – another woman will die soon, and it might be her. Amazon

I have just finished Chosen Child by Linda Huber which is going to be published on 15 February 2016

Chosen Child

You can read the synopsis and a taster from this book in yesterday’s post

Next on my spreadsheet is one of my books from ‘I should have read this ages ago’ pile. In fact this book was purchased way back in March 2013! Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale deserves to be read after being so patient.

Mrs Robinson's Disgrace

Blurb

On a mild winter’s evening in 1850, Isabella Robinson set out for a party. Her carriage bumped across the wide cobbled streets of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town and drew up at 8 Royal Circus, a grand sandstone terrace lit by gas lamps.
The guests were gathered in the high, airy drawing rooms on the first floor, the ladies in glinting silk and satin pulled tight over boned corsets; the gentlemen in tailcoats, waistcoats and neckties. When Mrs Robinson joined the throng she was at once enchanted by a Mr Edward Lane, a handsome medical student ten years her junior. He was ‘fascinating’, she told her diary, before chastising herself for being so susceptible to a man’s charms. But a wish had taken hold of her, which she was to find hard to shake… Amazon

So that’s my choices for this week. What do you all have to read at the moment? Do share!