ONE MAN BUILT A HEAVEN ON EARTH.
ANOTHER BUILT HELL BESIDE IT.
The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 was one of the great wonders of the world. This is the extraordinary story of its realisation, and of two men whose fates it linked: one was an architect, the other a serial killer…’
I first bought this book out of curiosity for the time period as well as a morbid curiosity into the story of America’s first serial killer. In school I studied the settling of the American West and the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century but I never really got a chance to look in depth at what happened in between. This book represented an opportunity to discover more about as it became the country it is today and the inventions and events that gave it the reputation it has. I had also very little knowledge about Holmes and had never heard of Burnham so it also gave me a good chance to research two men who really helped to shape both Chicago and America itself.
What I really enjoyed about reading this book was the incredible depth that went into creating the world of Chicago in the late 19th Century. As a reader I felt that I was fully immersed in the time and that it was really brought to life for me. I loved reading all about Chicago and all the contextual details of the time like labour strikes, new inventions and notable persons. I never felt too overloaded by the information, it was just enough to help you to find yourself but not so much that it was too much to imagine.
The intersecting storylines of the characters as their paths mingled together in the overarching narrative of Chicago was fascinating and something that I really enjoyed as the book progressed. I have to be honest and say that at first I wasn’t all that interested by the story of Burnham and the World’s Fair. I’d never heard of the Fair and I was far more interested in the story of H.H. Holmes who I had heard of and was the main reason behind why the book attracted my attention in the first place. But as I read further and the Fair began to take shape the more interesting it became. By the time the Fair was in full swing and Holmes was enjoying a flow of guests to his Hotel the pace of the book had picked up considerably and the great strength, the incredible immersive world of Chicago, was so enchanting that I read the final two parts of the book in a single sitting.
The big finale for Holmes was by far the most interesting part of the book for me. The in depth analysis of Geyer’s investigation into the disappearance of the Pitezel children was riveting and was the perfect climax to the story of Holmes and his victims that had been building up. Although the description of the Fair and the various issues surrounding its planning, construction and maintenance were an interesting read they were nothing compared to the excitement instilled by a good old fashioned detective story which is exactly what Geyer’s search for the missing children embodied. The mystery of Holmes is an irresistible story of evil and death as iconic as Jack the Ripper and I’m honestly surprised there haven’t been more TV and film adaptations of such a fascinating part in the history of America.
I really enjoyed reading this book and found it utterly enthralling- I would recommend it to anyone interested in either the period or the (in)famous men it follows.