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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 24 February 2012

"The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson

The story of serial killer H. H. Holmes is interleaved with that of the creation, life and destruction of the Chicago World Fair of 1893; the 'Castle' of Holmes with its basement torture room, its crematorium kiln and its sealed gas chamber was a few blocks from the Fair.

The story is full of characters. The main protagonists are murderer Holmes, architect Burnham (the first architect of skyscrapers which began in Chicago and also the architect of New York's Flatiron building) and Landscape Gardener Olmsted (who also designed Central Park). 'Also starring' are Buffalo Bill whose Wild West Show was set up opposite the Fair and drew bigger crowds; Ferris who invented his wheel to be the Fair's answer to Eiffel's Tower; Frank Lloyd Wright, a young architect in a rival to Burnham's Chicago firm who was fired by his boss Louis Sullivan; and Patrick Prendergast, a mad Irishman who assassinated Chicago's mayor just before the closing of the Fair. Walk on parts include incandescent bulbs powered by ac, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Elias Disney, the father of Walt, who worked on the Fair; Shredded Wheat and even the Titanic.

But the reason I read this big book in two obsessive days is the power of the writing. The author weaves his story magnificently, dropping little hins about the triumphs and tragedies to come. And he has some wonderfully purple moments:

  • "Daylight faded to thin broth." (p30) 
  • "For this buttoned-up age .... it was a letter that could have steamed itself open." (p257)

And some great quotes:

  • "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." Daniel H Burnham
  • "Damn your preambles! Get down to facts." Richard M Hunt

A brilliantly written book that contrasts the light and the dark at every turn.

February 2012; 442 pages

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