Yes, I know, as soon as the movie is announced the book gets immensely popular. Devil in the White City was originally recommended to me by my mom, we share a love of murder mysteries and we both burned through Patricia Cornwell’s Dr. Scarpetta series faster than was strictly necessary.
Devil in the White City is doubly interesting to me because it’s not just a murder mystery. Erik Larson gives us intelligent historical context that is easy to read through. Those of us living in today’s Chicago will marvel at the Chicago of the 1890s during the World’s Fair. Readers will recognize areas of Chicago that were brand new and home to the rich– industrialists, bankers and business men as well as the very poor.
Daniel H. Burnham brought Chicago, and the world, an exposition that surpassed everyone’s expectations. There were exhibitions from the furthest corners of the globe as well as new inventions (Ferris’s Wheel). He built entire cities from the ground up and extensive gardens from nothing. All this to delight thousands and satisfy his competitive streak– this Fair was going to be better than the one in Paris if it was the last thing he did.
H.H. Holmes was busy dazzling his audience too. There’s still speculation as to how many people Holmes actually killed. Holmes himself confessed to 30 murders, but the number of bodies may actually be much higher. There were so many that police had no way of matching them up or putting them back together. Holmes, while being the first serial killer (in the modern sense of the word) was also a world class con-man. He was originally caught for insurance fraud, the rest of his crimes came to light only later. He used his charm on women and men alike and did a booming business in his “Murder Castle” during the World’s Fair.
Burnham’s and Holme’s stories unfold simultaneously and sometimes overlap creating a suspenseful and truly scary story.
Whether you read this book for a gripping history lesson and a unique insight into 1890s Chicago, or you just want to read it before seeing Leonardo DiCaprio take the role in the movie, I highly recommend this novel. You won’t be able to put it down until it’s done.