December 5, 2019
Erik Larson - image from his site
First off, while this is an interesting and engaging story, it is not the top-notch book that Devil in the White City was. Here, Larson tells parallel tales of Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the wireless, and Hawley Crippen, a relative nobody who gained infamy by doing away with his wife. Where they intersect is when the new-fangled wireless machine is used to track the fleeing killer and his mistress as they cross the Atlantic in a passenger liner. Larson is excellent at imparting a sense of a time, 1910 in London, and various locations in Europe and North America. He offers much information about Marconi as a person, a scientist, a suitor, husband and father, and a businessman. While Marconi’s name may stand out to us today through the foggy details of history, there were several other individuals whose scientific investigations were also critical to the development of wireless communication. The politics, and the legal and business scheming that went into the wireless, make for a fun read. But, while Crippen and his pursuit by Scotland Yard may have represented the 1910 predecessor to helicopters trailing the white Bronco, Crippen seems such a minor presence as to stand out purely as literary device by which Larson can tell us about the time.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the book. Larson is a gifted writer and he clearly takes delight in presenting us with a smorgasbord of details of the day. You will learn things you did not know before. There is considerable visual imagery that makes one yearn for a skilled film director to be on call. It is only when comparing it to Devil in the White City that it…um… pales.
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages
Other Erik Larson books I have read
----- 2015 - Dead Wake
----- 2011 - In the Garden of Beasts
----- 2003 - The Devil in the White City
----- 2000 - Isaac’s Storm - not reviewed