I love true crime, and I read and watch a lot of documentaries about different serial killers; some who have been caught and others who took their secrets to their graves. It’s often easy to forget that True Crime is Non-Fiction—that you are reading about someone, or multiple someone’s, very personal tragedy. You get that filter of time where something horrific has occurred a hundred years ago, and it’s easy to forget that these were real people who had something horrendous happen to them. That isn’t the case with “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”. McNamara never lets you forget that this man, this serial rapist and murderer, is a real person, a real terror that did his prowling up and down California for decades. The people he tormented are still alive, some of them anyway, or their families remain to carry the burden of not having answers as to why, why, why? Until recently. McNamara was obsessive about tracking down clues, weeding through the red herrings of this long standing crime. She didn’t care who caught this man, as long as someone did. She was tenacious and dogged about following leads and working with investigators to follow up on things she found peculiar, but weren’t explored at the time of the crime. Unfortunately, she died half way through writing the book, which is bad for a number of reasons.
There are very few nonfiction books I like to read, but true crime is always the exception. So, of course, when I found this beauty about the first American serial killer, one that occurred just before all the Jack the Ripper Killings—and had some people across the pond believing these fiends were the same perpetrator—sign me up! I was a little leery though, mainly because after reading “Devil in the White City” I was, frankly, a little disappointed. That book was mainly on the Chicago World’s Fair, not so much on Henry H. Holmes and how he committed his murders, or what really happened in his murder hotel. This book didn’t have THAT problem. Oh no! Hollandsworth scoured old newspaper reports, police statements, and death certificates and was able to present his readers with the utter brutality of this killer. Unfortunately, however, that was about all the author could give.
Reviewing non-fiction books is hard. You can’t just say “I didn’t like the story”—I’m not saying that—because the story isn’t up for debate: it happened, these people existed. “Devil in the White City” is about the Chicago’s World Fair and all the trouble it faced prior, and during it’s opening, as well as all the innovations the fair gave rise to that we still enjoy today. It’s also about the serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes who happened to be “working” in Chicago during the time of the fair’s construction, opening, and closing. Holmes didn’t explicitly go to Chicago to take advantage of the fair in order to do his dark deeds, that seems more coincidental as Holmes was already in Chicago at the time and continued his “work” after leaving Chicago as well. So, really, the two events are barely connected and what you get is two different books in one. Are both good and fascinating? Sure. Does Larson have a wonderful ability for maintaining suspense and keeping the reader engaged in both stories? Yes. Was this what I was expecting when I bought this book? No.
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