Devil in the White City
by Erik Larson
Several months ago my book club read The Devil in the White City. I was intrigued and nervous because this non-fiction is about a serial killer! It’s also about the Chicago World’s Fair, which was not nearly as intimidating. All in all, I really enjoyed it. I liked Larson’s pace and how he alternated between the World’s Fair story line and the serial killer story line. The subject matter ended up being fascinating and the book read nicely (it wasn’t dry, etc). That being said, it took me forever to read it! Even though I was interested, I just slogged through. I’m glad I read it though and I certainly recommend it.
As someone who knew nothing about either the World’s Fair or the horrors that were associated with it, I found The Devil in the White City to be engaging and interesting. Larson alternates between the two storylines, intertwining them chronologically, which was really cool. I was shocked that the World’s Fair started incredibly late for their opening date and even more surprised that they made it (mostly). Their plans were impressive and awe inspiring. The sad part was how many delays they had – one building had to be rebuilt at least three times. From weather, to fires, to strikes, it seemed impossible that the World’s Fair would open, and yet it did. My favorite piece of history that I learned was that the Ferris wheel was invented specifically for the fair. On the flipside, learning about Holmes (and his various aliases) was creepy and simply insane. He was crafty, clever and charming, bending countless men and women to his will. The creepy part was the pleasure he derived from killing people (mostly women and children). He either suffocated them or gassed them in the most horrific way. And the craziest part is that at that time, combined with the bustle of the fair, he got away with countless murderers before being tracked down. He could just call himself another name (and did so to marry at least three women), move around to evade debtors, and cause the disappearance of so many women without the a hint of alarm. In conclusion (some spoilers if you don’t know what happens), the World’s Fair was a huge success, but after it’s closing, faded away and parts burnt down. However, some remnants linger on today. As for Holmes, he decided to kill his accomplice, Pitezel, take three of his children (separating them from their mother) and then kill them for the pleasure of it. Pitezel’s wife was distraught at their disappearance (she did not know they were dead right away) and hired a private investigator to track them down. In the end, he followed Holmes’ trail, finding the two dead sisters first and then later finding their dead brother. Holmes was arrested, tried, and found guilty, ultimately being hung.
Summing it up: This story was creepy, fascinating, and I recommend reading it!
All the best, Abbey