If anyone bears responsibility for the spate of Victorian true-crime books in recent years, it is Kate Summerscale, whose 2008 bestseller, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, appeared out of the blue and sold more than 800,000 copies. Others had written about that particular case, the Road Hill House murder of 1860, but none of them had hit the publishing spot quite so sensationally. Since then virtually every notorious 19th-century British murder has been exhumed, anatomised and analysed, but none of us has managed to reach such heights.
Now Summerscale is back with another, more obscure story about two boys who murdered their mother, Emily, in Plaistow, east London, in the hot summer of 1895 while their father was away at sea. Robert Coombes, who was thirteen and actually did the deed, and his twelve-year-old brother, Nathaniel, spent