THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY
March 7, 2006
THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Eric Larson (Vintage, 2004) Twenty years ago I was writing a Jack the Ripper novel (never finished, though a chunk of it can be found in my collection QUARTET) called BLACK AND WHITE AND RED ALL OVER, and doing a lot of reading about serial killers. One of the most fascinating was a fellow named Mudgett who went by the nom de guerre H.H. Holmes, and built a ghastly “murder hotel” in Chicago. I even played with idea of writing a novel about Mudgett, but gave up the notion when I learned that Robert Bloch had already done just that. Two decades later, Mudgett is back in Eric Larson’s bestselling THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY. Subtitled “Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America,” Larson’s book tells the story of two men: Daniel Burnham, the visionary architect who designed the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and Mudgett / Holmes, the killer who used the fair to lure young women to his hotel to meet their bloody ends down in his secret vaults. Larson does a masterful job of weaving their stories together. In his hands, Burnham’s fight to build his fair is just as gripping as Mudgett’s murders, and somehow these two very different tales become one. Triumph and tragedy, a vanished time and a lost kingdom, a terrific read.