Category Archives: mystery

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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The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

I really, really enjoy Ian McEwan’s writing. Atonement is my favorite, and I really enjoyed The Innocent. The Comfort of Strangers certainly did not disappoint.

The book takes place in a nameless foreign city, one which I, of course, viewed as Paris. (Except it wasn’t exactly Paris as Paris doesn’t lie on a sea. Small detail…) A man and a women, Colin and Mary, are on vacation. Lovers, they left Mary’s children with her ex-husband to go on holiday. They rent a hotel room overlooking a river and a cafe boat. They spend their days in bed and nights wandering the city’s aimless streets.

Sounds boring, right?

Well soon enough, on one of their evenings out, they run into Robert. They got a late start that day, you see, so they were looking for a restaurant that was still open. Robert just happened to know one. So they go, they listen to Robert tell a long and rather drunken story about his childhood. Then, too tired and too mapless to find their way back to the hotel, they fall asleep on the sidewalk.

Later that morning, still lost, they run into Robert in a cafe. He invites them to his apartment to get some sleep. And then the strangeness begins. It is immediately evident that there is some mystery surrounding Robert and his wife, Caroline. It’s eerie, almost. Certainly enough to keep me reading.

Let’s just say, the end is unexpected…

I enjoyed the book as a whole, but it was a bit disturbing. Ironic title, that’s for sure.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

So…honestly…I was expecting more from The Great Gatsby. I know oodles of people who do nothing but rave about it. Maybe it was so built up in my mind that it was inevitable that I’d be disappointed. Or maybe I was expecting too much.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed it. I just would never say it was one of my favorites or anything. And number two on the Modern Library’s List of the Best Novels of the 20th Century? Nah.

Another reason behind my dislike COULD be that I’m just not a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing. When I read Tender is the Night, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have either. It might have been because I LOVE Ernest Hemingway’s writing style, and being that they are contemporaries and I’ve been reading him at about the same time, I’ve been enjoying the Hemingway books much more. But really, who knows.

Also, I expected more description — more scenes of utter indulgence. When I picture the “roaring twenties,” I see women in flapper dresses and mobsters. It was the Jazz Age. Come on. I see Chicago. Not Long Island.

All that to say, the book wasn’t as great as I expected, but wasn’t bad either.

The general story line of remaking oneself in modern society was interesting. To think that one man from a lowly background could acquire so much wealth with so much anonymity is amazing, and certainly something that would be near impossible to do nowadays.

My favorite thing about the book was that we see all of this from an “outsiders” point of view. The two in the main love affair of the book do not narrate, nor is the narrator omniscient. The reader sees what Nick sees — and that helps with the general mystery — just who is Jay Gatsby? As more is revealed about Nick’s neighbor, the more mysterious he becomes.

The thing that seemed to fit most consistently with the wild idea of the “roaring twenties” was the idea of self-indulgence. The amount of cheating and lying and, well, indulging, was telling. Everyone in the book, even the narrator to some extent, seemed mainly to concern themselves with seeking their own pleasure.

The book ends on a very depressing note. I suppose I shouldn’t reveal exactly what happens, but scandal clearly didn’t get anyone in the book anywhere.

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Filed under historical fiction, mystery