Erik Larson | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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In 1910 the world was rocked by what became known as the North London Cellar Murder when a pile of human viscera was found buried in a basement. The man of the house, a mild-mannered doctor named Hawley Harvey Crippen, had some months earlier reported his wife missing and now was on the lam with his much younger mistress. But that's only one of the twin narratives that make up Erik Larson's new Thunderstruck (Crown). Larson hit critical and commercial gold in 2004 with The Devil in the White City, which set the tale of serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes against the pageantry of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, and he repeats the formula here to great effect, pairing Crippen's tale with that of Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of "wireless telegraphy," or radio. Or maybe not. Marconi fought for years to be credited for the most fantastic technology of its day, and Larson describes it all in detail, resulting in a richly satisfying picture of the Edwardian world as it stumbled into the 20th century. The plots converge when Crippen and his mistress embark for America on a ship equipped with the latest wireless technology, and the savvy captain is able to radio his suspicions ashore. The resulting chase across the Atlantic--maybe the first global news event--caps off a truly ripping yarn. a Tue 10/24, 12:30 PM, Borders, 150 N. State, 312-606-0750. Tue 10/24, 6 PM, Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton, 312-255-3700. Wed 10/25, 4 PM, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 W. Madison, Forest Park, 708-771-7243. Wed 10/25, 7 PM, Winnetka Community House, 620 Lincoln, Winnetka, 847-446-8880.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mary Cairns.

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