Customer Review

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A halfway devilish read, 16 Sep 2012
This review is from: The Devil In The White City (Paperback)
I read Rick Geary's "Beast of Chicago", an excellent comic book on the life of H. H. Holmes a few years ago and while Geary's book presented Holmes' case in detail, I wanted to read more about his time in the "murder castle" before he was caught. Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City" was suggested and I picked it up. Having read it, I was disappointed that there wasn't much more detail on Holmes and his eerie hotel. Here was a place where a man had created a hotel that had corridors that led to nowhere, rooms that had gas chambers, chutes that led from rooms to the cellar where the industrial size oven sat... the murder castle was an insane mind made into architecture. Holmes hired numerous contractors and fired them after working on part of the structure before hiring more contractors, so only he had a full idea of the layout of the building.

Much like Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood", Larson has written a nonfiction story in the style of a novel. The overall effect is highly compelling - at least for half the book. The only reason I picked up the book was my interest in the Holmes murders, I wasn't that interested in the World's Fair/Burnham side to the book. I feel that if Larson had stuck to the murders in the way Capote wrote solely about the murders in his book, "White City" would be a five star read for me. As it is, I felt that the book was overlong and found myself skipping to the chapters featuring Holmes rather than reading more about Burnham's problems delivering the Fair within budget and on time. Architecture isn't that interesting to read about, even for a spectacle like the White City and the World's Fair and if this book were about just that, I wouldn't have picked this up; on the flipside, if this were solely about Holmes, I would definitely have picked this up.

The best part of the book is in the last 50 pages when Larson turns his focus solely upon Holmes. Holmes is arrested (on insurance fraud of all things!) and its found out that he murdered his colleague whom he had taken out a life insurance policy on. Then it's discovered that his colleague's children were in Holmes' care and that they were now missing. The Pinkerton detective, Frank Geyer, goes hunting for the missing children, unearthing a bizarre and dark journey Holmes and his wards took until the grisly end.

Holmes' case is fascinating for numerous reasons and makes this book worth reading alone. His strange life, his motivations, his genius for evasion (not only did he evade the Chicago PD, the Chicago Police Chief, when he was a young lawyer, had actually represented Holmes in court!), the building he created to perfect his murdering methods, and the unknown number of victims he killed, all make Holmes a morbidly interesting figure of history. Larson does a fine job of bringing this monster to life on the page even if Holmes remains an enigma to the end. "The Devil in the White City" is worth reading for the H. H. Holmes chapters, but the Daniel Burnham/World's Fair chapters don't match them for intensity or interest - at least for me.
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