Boys’ own

By The Economist online

Morality tales

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer. By Kate Summerscale. Bloomsbury; 378 pages; £16.99. To be published in America by Penguin in July; $28.

ON A Sunday afternoon, George Orwell believed, nothing is more pleasurable than to settle down with a good, true, murder story. Kate Summerscale has a nose for such stories. In the bestselling prizewinner, “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher”, she explored the mystery of a Victorian infant found with his throat cut. In her new book, “The Wicked Boy”, the victim is a working-class wife and mother. Within a few pages her murderer has been identified. The challenge, to which Ms Summerscale rises wonderfully well, is to sustain the reader’s interest in him for the remaining 50-odd years of his life.

The story begins in the summer of 1895, during a heatwave. On Monday July 8th, two young East End boys, 13-year-old Robert Coombes and his younger brother, Nattie, set out to watch W.G. Grace play at Lord’s cricket ground. There seemed to be nothing odd in their behaviour, except perhaps that when they came home…

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