by Erik Larson

  • I read it between Jan 15 & 27, 2018
  • Genre: NON-FICTION

I wish I’d written this ...

... because it vividly brings to life a remarkable period of American history!

This fascinating account juxtaposes the great achievement of Chicago's 1893 World's Fair with the psychopathic evil of H. H. Holmes. Though it's a non-fiction book, the author employs his imagination (based on research) to add atmosphere and emotion, a technique that works very well, giving the tale an immersive quality that a drier telling would probably lack. It dates from 2003, and I've read that subsequent research has proven some of the content (particularly where Holmes is concerned) inaccurate, but in all honesty, it hardly matters. The devil is not in the details, he's in a creepy old hotel with gas chambers, a furnace, bodies in the cellar, and corridors that seem to go nowhere. Holmes is fascinating and scary as hell. I'm looking forward to Martin Scorsese's movie version!

How it starts:

From the publisher

Erik Larson's gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America's rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair's brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country's most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his "World's Fair Hotel" just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

About Mark Hodder

Mark Hodder is the author of the Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK and its sequels, and of the first officially sanctioned Sexton Blake novel to have been published in nearly half a century (he created and maintains BLAKIANA: The Sexton Blake Resource). He also writes short stories, flash fiction and vignettes. Find out more on his Patreon page. Mark was born in the UK but currently lives in Valencia, Spain, with his partner and two children.