Wednesday, July 27, 2016
I really enjoyed Erik Larson's Devil in the White City. Larson's dual-track narrative tied together the planning and building of the 1893 Chicago Exposition and the murders H. H. Holmes committed there without feeling forced. Larson used the same technique in Thunderstruck, with less success. Thunderstruck ties Guglielmo Marconi's invention of the wireless telegraph with Hawley Crippen's murder of his wife. The tie is obvious - Crippen, escaping Europe on the SS Montrose with his mistress (who was disguised as a teenage boy) was the first criminal "caught" by the new technology. Larson writes well, but he's hampered by his material. Marconi wasn't a particularly compelling character (he was single-minded and jealous - unpleasant on a small, annoying scale), and his work is dryer than the building of the White City. Crippen is more sympathetic than Holmes, but his murder is more routine (if murder can ever be routine, killing a spouse to end a bad marriage is as close as one can come) and doesn't leave the reader with the creepy feeling that good mystery novels and true crime books evoke. It may sound like I didn't enjoy Thunderstruck, but I did. I just pales in comparison with Larson's prior work.