Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Rick Klaw, Fri., Dec. 1, 2006
by Erik Larson
Crown, 446 pp., $25.95Erik 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.