The tale of the infamous Edwardian murderer, Hawley Crippen, whose life and eventual capture were inexorably interwoven with the life of Guglielmo Marconi and his revolutionary invention: the wireless.
Erik Larson is the author of books including the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller Isaac's Storm and The Devil in the White City, which was a No 1 bestseller in both hardcover and paperback in the USA and was nominated for a National Book Award. He is a former features writer for The Wall Street Journal and Time, and his magazine stories have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and many other publications. He lives in Seattle.
Two stories unexpectedly intersect in the Atlantic Ocean in Larson's true crime tale. Physician Hawley Crippen is skilled in the use of homeopathic medicines. When his practice fades, he joins a firm to sell patent medicine. He marries Belle, who dreams of becoming an opera singer and will do anything to achieve fame. Crippen eventually falls for another woman and decides to kill Belle. At the same time, Guglielmo Marconi, born to a successful family in Italy, becomes focused on creating a way to send wireless transmissions across the ocean. He finds success with his transatlantic wireless while fighting off competitors and detractors who said that he stole his ideas. These two tales connect when Marconi's invention is used to catch the fleeing couple. Bob Balaban's neutral voice neither adds nor detracts from the story, but listeners might wish that he had used some emotion on occasion. Libraries where Larson has a following should purchase this title.-Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
In this splendid, beautifully written followup to his blockbuster thriller, Devil in the White City, Erik Larson again unites the dual stories of two disparate men, one a genius and the other a killer. The genius is Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of wireless communication. The murderer is the notorious Englishman Dr. H.H. Crippen. Scientists had dreamed for centuries of capturing the power of lightning and sending electrical currents through the ether. Yes, the great cable strung across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean could send messages thousands of miles, but the holy grail was a device that could send wireless messages anywhere in the world. Late in the 19th century, Europe's most brilliant theoretical scientists raced to unlock the secret of wireless communication. Guglielmo Marconi, impatient, brash, relentless and in his early 20s, achieved the astonishing breakthrough in September 1895. His English detractors were incredulous. He was a foreigner and, even worse, an Italian! Marconi himself admitted that he was not a great scientist or theorist. Instead, he exemplified the Edisonian model of tedious, endless trial and error. Despite Marconi's achievements, it took a sensational murder to bring unprecedented worldwide attention to his invention. Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, a proper, unattractive little man with bulging, bespectacled eyes, possessed an impassioned, love-starved heart. An alchemist and peddler of preposterous patent medicines, he killed his wife, a woman Larson portrays lavishly as a gold-digging, selfish, stage-struck, flirtatious, inattentive, unfaithful clotheshorse. The hapless Crippen endured it all until he found the sympathetic Other Woman and true love. The "North London Cellar Murder" so captured the popular imagination in 1910 that people wrote plays and composed sheet music about it. It wasn't just what Crippen did, but how. How did he obtain the poison crystals, skin her and dispose of all those bones so neatly? The manhunt climaxed with a fantastic sea chase from Europe to Canada, not just by a pursuing vessel but also by invisible waves racing lightning-fast above the ocean. It seemed that all the world knew-except for the doctor and his lover, the prey of dozens of frenetic Marconi wireless transmissions. In addition to writing stylish portraits of all of his main characters, Larson populates his narrative with an irresistible supporting cast. He remains a master of the fact-filled vignette and humorous aside that propel the story forward. Thunderstruck triumphantly resurrects the spirit of another age, when one man's public genius linked the world, while another's private turmoil made him a symbol of the end of "the great hush" and the first victim of a new era when instant communication, now inescapable, conquered the world. 14-city tour. (Oct.) James L. Swanson's most recent book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, was published by Morrow in February. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-Larson's page-turner juxtaposes scientific intrigue with a notorious murder in London at the turn of the 20th century. It alternates the story of Marconi's quest for the first wireless transatlantic communication amid scientific jealousies and controversies with the tale of a mild-mannered murderer caught as a result of the invention. The eccentric figures include the secretive Marconi and one of his rivals, physicist Oliver Lodge, who believed that he was first to make the discovery, but also insisted that the electromagnetic waves he studied were evidence of the paranormal. The parallel tale recounts the story of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, accused of murdering his volatile, shrewish wife. As he and his unsuspecting lover attempted to escape in disguise to Quebec on a luxury ocean liner, a Scotland Yard detective chased them on a faster boat. Unbeknownst to the couple, the world followed the pursuit through wireless transmissions to newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. A public that had been skeptical of this technology suddenly grasped its power. In an era when "wireless" has a whole new connotation, young adults interested in the history of scientific discovery will be enthralled with this fascinating account of Marconi and his colleagues' attempts to harness a new technology. And those who enjoy a good mystery will find the unraveling of Dr. Crippen's crime, complete with turn-of-the-century forensics, appealing to the CSI crowd. A thrilling read.-Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.