For the first Book Club read of 2018, we selected Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It's a non-fiction crime book and definitely outside my normal genre. Even more shocking, I recommended it! I found this book at the airport on our way to the great state of Texas, but at the last minute decided I didn't want to read it on the cruise (it didn't seem like a light read for a vacation).
Lo and behold, I was right!
This was a really dark read. Like, so, so dark. It's split between the story of David Burnham, an architect who was almost a singular force behind the development and success of the World's Fair in Chicago. Parts of it were a little dry (committees and such), others were sad (RIP John Root), and still others were interesting (all the foods and new inventions that started here, including widespread electricity).
While non-fiction isn't my favorite genre, I didn't have too much trouble getting myself to pick this up every night. There were enough new things to learn and interesting facts to keep me going. Larson had a mountain of information and he displayed it really creative ways. Kudos to him for making this big, boring historical event into a bright, vibrant story. I am 100% bummed I could not attend the World's Fair more than a century ago, and that's entirely due to the way Larson brought the whole event alive.
On the other side, Larson wrote about H. H. Holmes. He had more names than I could really keep track of, but this seemed to be the one he used most often. Holmes was a total psychopath in a time when the signs and symptoms were largely unaware. He was handsome and charming, and somehow managed to elude attention for years as he lured attractive, available young women to his business and quietly killed them for no other reason than he simply liked to.
The sections about H. H. Holmes tended to be shorter, but that was totally fine with me. They were chilling, and had they been even slightly more graphic or scary, I would definitely have had trouble sleeping. The idea that someone could have such split sides of himself was shocking, and the idea that he could go on so long without anyone catching on was even more shocking.
Holmes killed women, men, children. Business associates, lost travelers, multiple wives, and people he'd known for years. All the while, he was writing apologetic letters to parents searching for daughters, shaking the hands of local cops, and expanding his businesses. He built a kiln to burn bodies in the basement and a sealed room with a gas lever to kill victims. He bought multiple properties to bury bodies when out of town and changed his name every time he moved. Holmes clearly thought out his crimes with calculated efficiency. A really, really scary guy.
Even if crime non-fiction isn't your thing, I encourage you to give this one a try. It was a really unique read that brought history alive and really showed just how far we've come in business, forensics, and crime investigation.