Category Archives: crime

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

(Finished November 7, 2011)

I finally finished this crazy ridiculous and true novel. I bought this book at my fave little used bookstore when I first moved to Chicago because I thought it would be fun to read a little history of the Second City. I didn’t know anything about the “World’s Columbian Exposition”. Also, I’d never heard anything about a serial killer during the fair. I knew I had to read this book.

Clearly the story of the “doctor” murderer was the most interesting part of the book. How one man, with several aliases and unknowing partners in crime, could murder several dozen people without the knowledge of any authorities, seemed unbelievable to me. I got hooked; I had to know how that particular story line ended.

The best part of the fair section of the book was recognizing several names and places around Chicago and learning the history of them. The architects of the “White City “ — the main section of the fair – were important and influential people in Chicago’s history. Although not necessarily the most well-known (or even well-liked) during their time, these men certainly left their mark on the city as we know it today. Come spring or a nice winter’s day, I hope to head down to what is now Hyde Park and stroll along what used to be The White City, Midway Plaisance, and Jackson Park.

The Devil in the White City : Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City : Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

I’ve wanted to read In Cold Blood for a long time, but never got around to it. I finally saw Capote, the movie, a few weeks ago and decided it was about time. The movie, and the book, were wonderful. Truman Capote was truly talented. As a former reporter, I know how much time and patience it takes to assemble information for a simple news story. I can’t imagine compiling all of the information for such an extensive nonfiction book. The time and organizational skills alone baffle me. Not only was I overwhelmed by the story, but I was also astounded by the actual writing process itself.

Capote’s writing style in the book is elegant yet straightforward. I didn’t feel like I was reading a news article, and it read fluidly, yet I could tell that it was meant for magazine-form. The details were crisp, the people described simply but thoroughly. Perfect tone for such an undertaking.

The story itself is chilling. I can understand why it baffled and intrigued audiences then and continues to do so now. The idea of human beings who could care so little for their fellow man sickens me. Yet Dick and Perry did not care at all. They were unattached, thinking only of themselves.

The book begins with a description of Holcomb Kansas and the ranch where Dick and Perry’s infamous murders would take place. The Clutter family, a well-to-do and pious farm family with great connections, is introduced. Intermittently, so are our antagonists.

Perry and Dick are parolees who are on a mission: get some money, move toMexicoand buy a tourist fishing boat. They met in a Kansas jail where a fellow inmate who used to work for the Clutter family told them about the wealthy farm-owner. This old inmate of theirs ended up being the link that lead to their arrest.

The crime spree that led the men throughHolcomb,Kansasbegan in Kansas Cityand took the men fromMexico to Florida and back. Months passed before they were caught.

The book details reactions and perspectives from many: Dick’s mother, a local shop-owner, Nancy Clutter’s boyfriend, and teachers, among many, many others. It ends as the men hang after years

As a (former) journalist, semi-news junkie, and lover of words, this book was at the same time refreshing and disturbing.

In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood by Truman Capote

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The Innocent by Ian McEwan

I just finished reading The Innocent by Ian McEwan. (I’m linking to Barnes and Noble for these books, by the way, because Miss Recob is probably the only person who would ever be reading this, and she has a Nook.) Anyway, the book was short, but very descriptive and engrossing.

The book begins as a young British man arrives in Cold War Berlin. His assignment is to work with the Americans on a secret project — a project that involves discretion and secrecy. The awkward British conventions of this man add humor to the plot as he doesn’t know how to act around the free-wheeling Americans. Add a beautiful, experienced German woman who makes passes at him during a night out with the boys, and you have (almost) hilarity.

As he settles in, he begins to become accustomed to “real life” in Berlin. He performs his job well. He finds that he can, in fact, carry on a relationship with the beautiful woman, despite her past. In fact, they become engaged.

Things are going great for Mr. Britain-in-Germany, but then the book takes a turn for the worse. Here, the real suspense comes in, and the situation unravels completely. A man is killed. A man is disposed of.  The question is this: What is true innocence, and when is it lost?

This book caused me to think about the way our society views innocence. Who is really innocent? A child? A puppy? Is anyone really innocent? Is innocence a positive or negative quality? What causes one to go from innocent to guilty? Is it one’s own conscience, society or a combination of both? Society clearly plays a major role in the definition of “innocence”.

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