Monday, January 21, 2008

Review: "The Devil in the White City"

"The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. Crown Publishers, 2003.

Sick fascination - this meticulously documented narrative of the creation of the "White City" for Chicago's Columbian expo in the early 1890s is told in tandem with the gruesome story of H. Holmes, a serial killer that managed to dispatch as many as 20 women and children in the span of a couple of years within a few blocks of the fair without detection! He cremated them, then hired someone to clean the bones and reassemble the skeletons, which he sold to medical schools. Not until years later, when a distraught mom hired the Pinkerton detective agency (now operating as Securitas) to find her missing children, did the full story emerge and become sensationalized in the press.

The story of the fair and the depraved sociopath is so compellingly told that I couldn't put the book down until I reached the very last words. The parallel stories progress relentlessly and with graphic description. We come to know the major players, both good and evil, perpetrators and victims, as if they were alive today. No forensic TV series could have told it any better!

An unexpected side entertainment was discovering the luminaries associated with the fair: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pullman and others; as well as the number of products still available today that debuted then: shredded wheat, the Ferris wheel, neoclassical public buildings, alternating current.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I second this review!
My friend rec. it to me a few months ago, and I borrowed it from the library. =) I could not put it down!