Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Devil in the White City

Erik Larson

"Bringing Chicago circa 1893 to vivid life, Erik Larson's spell-binding bestseller intertwines the true tale of two men--the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World's Fair, striving to secure America's place in the world; and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death.  Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction."

My Take:

The organization of this book was very much Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The Dr. Jekyll part of the book was when the story focused on the mild mannered and genius designer of the World's Fair, and the Mr. Hyde chapters were when the book focused on the serial killer H.H. Holmes. The Mr. Hyde aspect is based on a man that I am utterly shocked isn't ensconced in pop culture as thoroughly as others such as Jack the Ripper.  Seriously, Wikipedia this guy, you'll be shocked too.  Talk about maniacal!  This man built an entire business park/hotel/boarding house around his desire to maim, murder and torture women.  He had secret "disposal" chutes built in, secret passageways, secret body burning furnaces, secret anything a building dubbed "murder castle" would require.    I found these chapters absolutely fascinating.  I felt the author did a fabulous job of getting into his head.  When the book would shift focus from the building of the fair to Holmes, an eerie atmosphere would envelop you and totally creep you out.  I loved it.

As far as the Dr. Jekyll parts, dedicated to the great Architect of the Chicago World's Fair, was just okay.  At the beginning it was fine, but I quickly realized that his story just wasn't up my alley.  I'm not all that interested in reading about architecture.  Looking at beautiful buildings, yes, but reading about their construction? Not so much.  Dr. Jekyll just didn't hold my attention and about a third the way through, I started skimming those sections, and about two thirds through, I began skipping them altogether.  I felt like the two interweaving stories were for two entirely different sets of readers.  

I have to say that altogether this book was pretty good.  It was impeccably researched and crafted in such a way that it read like fiction.  There is no denying that this author is flat out fantastic.  His writing is wonderful, it's just that half of the subject matter wasn't for me.  When a coworker told me about this book, I was very intrigued by his description. He told me that "juxtaposing of the master builder and the master destroyer was riveting."  I don't think it quite lived up to that description, but I do think the author's telling of the absolute horror that was H. H. Holmes shoots this book up to the top of my ratings list.  I'm going to rate this book a 2, Borders with a Coupon.  It's definitely worth a read, especially if you are a fan of true crime.

Tell me what you think!  
Have you read this book, or anything else by Erik Larson?  
Do you think I am totally off base in my review?  
What do you think of the cover?
Hit the comments and let me know!

If the Devil in the White City was a movie, it would likely be rated a very mild PG-13.  This is only for the subject matter at hand: a serial killer.  The details of the slayings aren't' really discussed throughout the book, but I think the subject matter is enough (barely) to warrant a PG-13. 

***FTC Disclosure:  Devil in the White City was borrowed from a friend.  No compensation was given, all opinions are my own***


Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

I read this one a while back and really enjoyed it. I did think it could be slow in parts with a bit too much detail in the descriptions of the fair.

Kate the Book Buff said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, I thought it was really good, but just like you said, it got slow. Thanks for stopping by!

-Kate the Book Buff

Jennifer Perry said...

I just loved it all. The part of the book pertaining to the fair was for me a fascinating biograpy of brilliant talents fighting beaurocracy and short sighted politicians. The Holmes part was fascinating - that he did indeed have an empire dedicated to his life of torturing and murdering women. And he didn't treat men too well either. How his crimes escaped so many people is unfathomable.


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