Wednesday, November 30, 2011
THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larson
This is one fun, zesty read. It's not fiction; it's a combination of scientific history and true crime. We're presented with two parallel stories. The first is about Guglielmo Marconi and his development of the wireless, and how he worked and slaved at developing it and making it work...sometimes at the expense of his family and friends.
The second is of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, a U.S. born homeopath living in London. He was unhappily married to a philandering would-be music hall artiste, but began having affairs himself. Eventually his wife disappeared after a party, and he claimed she had returned to the U.S. and later had died and was cremated there. Meanwhile, his mistress moved in and began wearing Mrs. Crippen's clothes and jewelry. Mrs. Crippen's friends began to suspect foul play and contacted the police. A search was conducted of the house and the police were satisfied there had been no murder, but Crippen and the mistress panicked and fled for the US aboard a steamship. The captain suspected them, and contacted the police with the brand-new wireless, the first time it was ever used for detection purposes, and Crippen was arrested when he disembarked in Canada.
It's a fun story; the two streams eventually intersect in a dramatic way. And Larson is fair to Crippen; he never confessed, and there have been doubts cast on his guilt, but one cannot deny that his actions were very suspicious. Human remains were discovered under his basement floor, but there are doubts that they were his wife's. Larson's style is very straightforward, and he alternates between the two stories to keep things going.
Some may be annoyed by the interruptions to one or the other story; I have to admit, I found myself getting into the Crippen plotline more than the Marconi. But still, I'm glad I read this and recommend it.