90. Thunderstruck (Erik Larson)

Saturday, June 06, 2009
If the first book on my self-imposed summer reading list is anything to go by, I'm in for a great summer! Thunderstruck is the real-life story of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, a mild-mannered, quiet homeopathic doctor who murdered his wife and ran off with his secretary. The age old story... Erik Larson, however, is a masterful storyteller and weaves Crippen's story with that of Gugliemo Marconi, inventor of the wireless telegraphy, the invention which would allow investigators to find and capture the Doctor and his lover as they sailed across the Atlantic.

The two stories seem unrelated for most of the book but after Crippen's wife disappears and his lover begins wearing her clothes and jewellry in public, alerting friends and eventually the police, the pieces begin falling neatly into place. The ability for investigators and ships to be able to communicate across the Atlantic and between ships at sea not only helped capture Crippen but gave Marconi and his company the world-wide recognition that his system did work and just how useful it could be (along with it's "successful" use on board both the Lusitania and the Titanic).

Crippen's tale of love and murder is not a new one; we've heard similar stories throughout history but Larson presents it to the reader in such a compelling way that you can't help but find yourself reading page after page, unable to put it down. Thankfully, the chapters are relatively short, alternating between Marconi and Crippen, so finding a spot to eventually stop and insert your bookmark isn't difficult. Last summer, I had read Larson's The Devil in the White City and loved it. At the time, I was a bit put-off by his somewhat fictional style of story telling but this time, I didn't have any issues. I highly recommend Thunderstruck and found myself as caught up in the tale as newspaper readers around the world who followed the hunt for Crippen daily (thanks to the use of Marconi's wireless to relay messages and updates from the middle of the ocean to reporters on both sides of the Atlantic).

Inside the front cover of the hard cover version of the book is a reproduction of Bacon's New Map of London 1902 and a few points of interest relevant to this story have been pointed out including the location of the murder scene and the prison where Crippen and his lover, Ethel Le Neve, were incarcerated and another where the doctor eventually met his fate (she was acquitted). I was struck by the inclusion of one of these, Holloway Prison, as I was sure I had walked by the entrance to the prison grounds when I got lost on my first day in London. Sure enough, upon closer inspection, I found that this was correct. Curious now, I took a closer look at the map and was suprised to discover that the murder scene was mere blocks (less than 1 mile!)from the B&B I stayed in while in London a few months ago. Egads! It woudln't really have mattered though as the Crippen's house on Hilldrop Crescent was destroyed by a bomb during the war.

Go out and read today! A great mystery!


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