Book Review: Readings

Erik Larson



by Erik Larson

Crown, 446 pp., $25.95

Erik Larson's previous novel, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, established him as the premier contemporary author of literary true crime. The publication of Thunderstruck maintains his status.

Larson retells the infamous and oft-told tale of the American Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, who, while living in Edwardian London, murdered his aspiring actress wife and attempted to escape on an ocean liner only to be captured, thanks to a new invention: the wireless radio. Plotted and paced like a thriller, Thunderstruck successfully weaves the concurrent stories of Crippen, his wife Belle Elmore, and Guglielmo Marconi into a fascinating view of early 20th-century life. While the other threads are intriguing, it is the chronicling of Marconi, his radio, and the ensuing marketing of the invention that truly fascinates. Historians often paint a less-than-flattering image of Marconi, claiming he did not invent the radio; rather, that he stole the idea. In Thunderstruck, Larson debunks that idea and envisions the young Marconi as akin to the young entrepreneurs who powered Silicon Valley in the 1990s. Compared to the Marconi segments, the rest of the characters' stories lack the same charm. I longed for more of Marconi and his invention.

Thanks in a large part to his realistic portrayal of England and his work's tense pacing, Larson approaches this well-trodden turf – the second-most famous murder in England, according to the preface – from a unique and fresh perspective. Meticulously researched and well-written, Thunderstruck offers entertainment at its finest, sure to enthrall fans of crime and history alike.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Rick Klaw
DVD Watch
Batman: Gotham Knight
Six animated visions of the Caped Crusader, as envisioned by six unique animé directors and six different writers

July 18, 2008

Also New in Graphic Novels
Also New in Graphic Novels

July 11, 2008


Thunderstruck, Erik Larson, Crown

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle