Larson does a good job of describing the difficulties, both political and weather-related, which plagued the construction of what came to be known as the White City, and his description of the Exposition communicated the sense of awe visitors must have felt when they saw the first ever Ferris wheel and the gorgeous buildings filled with curiosities. He leavens this sense of awe with creepy but engrossing chapters about H. H. Holmes, a pharmacist and landlord whose wives, secretaries, and business associates seem to disappear. Holmes has an explanation for everything - they went back to their families, or ran away to marry, or followed another business opportunity. Sure, his apartment building had odd, soundproofed rooms, and maybe the gas jets looked a bit odd, but no one put anything together.
No one, that is, until 1895 when Frank Geyer, a Philadelphia detective investigated a case of insurance fraud. H. H. Holmes had taken out insurance policies on his business partner Benjamin Perzel, who disappeared soon afterward. Holmes then took Perzel's children on a trip from which they never returned. This last section reads like a tightly written police procedural, with solid detective work and a few lucky breaks. Geyer captured America's first known serial killer.