It is a summer's night in 1860. In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet. Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep. At some point after midnight a dog barks. The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery: an unimaginably gruesome murder has taken place in their home. The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is surely still among them. Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, the most celebrated detective of his day, reaches Road Hill House a fortnight later. He faces an unenviable task: to solve a case in which the grieving family are the suspects. The murder provokes national hysteria. The thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes - scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing - arouses fear and a kind of excitement. But when Whicher reaches his shocking conclusion there is uproar and bewilderment. A true story that inspired a generation of writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this has all the hallmarks of the classic murder mystery - a body; a detective; a country house steeped in secrets. In The Suspicions of Mr Whicher Kate Summerscale untangles the facts behind this notorious case, bringing it back to vivid, extraordinary life.
En 1844, Isabella Walker épouse en secondes noces l'ingénieur Henry Robinson avec qui elle s'installe à Édimbourg. En 1850, elle rencontre Edward Lane, brillant étudiant en médecine. De dix ans son cadet, il est marié à la fille de Lady Drysdale, qui tient un salon où elle reçoit les intellectuels de l'époque. Au fil du temps, ils nouent une correspondance. Isabella s'éprend de lui et rend compte de cette passion dans son journal intime. Nul ne connaît la réelle teneur de leur relation, mais lorsque Henry découvre ces écrits, en 1855, il décide d'engager une procédure de divorce. S'ensuit un procès houleux devant la cour des Divorces, tribunal laïc créé quelques mois plus tôt. Dans la société victorienne régie par les hommes, la question de l'adultère féminin suscite en effet émotions et préjugés...
À partir d'archives judiciaires et d'articles de presse, Kate Summerscale traite son sujet comme une véritable histoire policière, ménageant le suspense avec art.
« Les reconstitutions des scènes de procès sont vives et captivantes. Les recherches que Summerscale a effectuées sont impeccables et sa narration parfaitement menée et documentée. » (Evening Standard)
« Le cadre de l'histoire est victorien mais le sens de la vie qu'il contient est moderne : non résolu, ce sens demeure ouvert... » (Philip Hensher, The Spectator)
Juillet 1895. Nathaniel et Robert Coombes, deux frères âgés de douze et treize ans, se retrouvent seuls pendant dix jours. Leur père, marin, vient d'appareiller pour New York. Quant à leur mère, ils assurent à tout le monde qu'elle est partie à Liverpool. Rapidement, la famille, les voisins, s'inquiètent de ne pas la voir revenir. La police arrive sur les lieux alors qu'une odeur pestilentielle envahit la rue. À l'étage, ils découvrent le corps de la mère en état de décomposition avancé. Interpellé, Robert admet avoir tué sa mère à coups de couteau.
Libéré pour bonne conduite après la mort de la reine Victoria, Robert fait partie des contingents d'anciens prisonniers allant peupler les terres nouvelles d'Australie. Sa vie change alors radicalement. Sans que jamais rien ne filtre de son passé.
« Absolument captivant. »
Sarah Waters, The Guardian
Born in 1900 to a promiscuous American oil heiress and a British army captain, Marion Barbara Carstairs realised very early on that she was not like most little girls.
Liberated by war work in WWI, Marion reinvented herself as Joe, and quickly went on to establish herself as a leading light of the fashionable lesbian demi-monde. She dressed in men's clothes, smoked cigars and cheroots, tattooed her arms, and became Britain's most celebrated female speed-boat racer - the 'fastest woman on water'.
Yet Joe tired of the lime-light in 1934, and retired to the Bahamian Island of Whale Cay. There she fashioned her own self-sufficient kingdom, where she hosted riotous parties which boasted Hollywood actresses and British royalty among their guests. Although her lovers included screen sirens such as Marlene Dietrich, the real love of Joe's life was a small boy-doll named Lord Tod Wadley, to whom she remained devoted throughout her remarkable life. She died, aged 93, in 1993.
From the internationally bestselling author, a deeply researched and atmospheric murder mystery of late Victorian-era London
In the summer of 1895, Robert Coombes (age 13) and his brother Nattie (age 12) were seen spending lavishly around the docklands of East London -- for ten days in July, they ate out at coffee houses and took trips to the seaside and the theater. The boys told neighbors they had been left home alone while their mother visited family in Liverpool, but their aunt was suspicious. When she eventually forced the brothers to open the house to her, she found the badly decomposed body of their mother in a bedroom upstairs. Robert and Nattie were arrested for matricide and sent for trial at the Old Bailey.
Robert confessed to having stabbed his mother, but his lawyers argued that he was insane. Nattie struck a plea and gave evidence against his brother. The court heard testimony about Robert's severe headaches, his fascination with violent criminals and his passion for 'penny dreadfuls', the pulp fiction of the day. He seemed to feel no remorse for what he had done, and neither the prosecution nor the defense could find a motive for the murder. The judge sentenced the thirteen-year-old to detention in Broadmoor, the most infamous criminal lunatic asylum in the land. Yet Broadmoor turned out to be the beginning of a new life for Robert--one that would have profoundly shocked anyone who thought they understood the Wicked Boy.
At a time of great tumult and uncertainty, Robert Coombes's case crystallized contemporary anxieties about the education of the working classes, the dangers of pulp fiction, and evolving theories of criminality, childhood, and insanity. With riveting detail and rich atmosphere, Kate Summerscale recreates this terrible crime and its aftermath, uncovering an extraordinary story of man's capacity to overcome the past.
From the Hardcover edition.
Shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction 2017
The gripping, fascinating account of a shocking murder case that sent late Victorian Britain into a frenzy, by the number one bestselling, multi-award-winning author of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
'Her research is needle-sharp and her period detail richly atmospheric, but what is most heartening about this truly remarkable book is the story of real-life redemption that it brings to light' John Carey, Sunday Times
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, leaving the boys and their mother at home for the summer.
Over the next ten days Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning family valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside. During this time nobody saw or heard from their mother, though the boys told neighbours she was visiting relatives. As the sun beat down on the Coombes house, an awful smell began to emanate from the building.
When the police were finally called to investigate, what they found in one of the bedrooms 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.
Enhanced Edition of the bestselling Mrs Robinson's Disgrace, including author videos and podcasts
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 house lit by gas lamps. This was the home of the rich widow Lady Drysdale, a vivacious hostess whose soirees were the centre of an energetic intellectual scene.
Lady Drysdale's guests were gathered in the high, airy drawing rooms on the first floor, the ladies in dresses of glinting silk and satin, bodices pulled tight over boned corsets; the gentlemen in tailcoats, waistcoats, neckties and pleated shirt fronts, dark narrow trousers and shining shoes. When Mrs Robinson joined the throng she was introduced to Lady Drysdale's daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Edward Lane. She was at once enchanted by the handsome Mr Lane, a 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...
A compelling story of romance and fidelity, insanity, fantasy, and the boundaries of privacy in a society clinging to rigid ideas about marriage and female sexuality, Mrs Robinson's Disgrace brings vividly to life a complex, frustrated Victorian wife, longing for passion and learning, companionship and love.
Au lendemain d'une nuit pourtant bien calme, Saville Kent, cinq ans, disparaît. Sous le choc, les habitants de cette grande demeure du Wilthshire doivent faire face à deux évidences : l'enfant a été assassiné et le meurtrier est forcément l'un d'entre eux.
Aussitôt, les rumeurs vont bon train. La presse, alors en plein essor, en fait un large écho. L'ensemble de la nation se passionne pour l'affaire. L'enquête piétine jusqu'à ce que Jack Whicher, célèbre détective de Scotland Yard, prenne les choses en main.
« L'Affaire de Road Hill House est le récit, rythmé, d'une véritable affaire de meurtre dans l'Angleterre des années 1860, dont le dénouement convoqua l'un des premiers détectives de Scotland Yard et inspira des romanciers tels que Dickens et Wilkie Collins en exposant les secrets les plus sombres des foyers de la classe moyenne victorienne. Absolument fascinant. » (Sarah Waters)
« Ce livre analyse brillamment la question des classes sociales, de la criminalité, de la nature humaine et de la religion à une époque de grands changements. Il faut lire le livre captivant de Kate Summerscale. » (Ian Rankin)