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"Thunderstruck" by Erik Larson (Nonfiction)

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"Thunderstruck" by Erik Larson (Nonfiction)

Post by SonjaMarie » Fri February 13th, 2009, 7:27 pm

"Thunderstruck" by Erik Larson.

When I added this to my queue at BF I was under the impression that it was a fiction book, so imagine my surprise when I read the Author's Note to find out it was nonfiction. Oh well! The book still sounded interesting enough and I started to read it and found myself drawn into a fascinating book of wireless telegraphy and murder....

The book shows how the lives of two very different people manage to come together in one of Britain's biggest manhunts in the early 1900s. Guglielmo Marconi and Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen.

Crippen's wife Cora aka Belle Elmore, a volatile woman who dominates her husband, a gentle and kind-hearted man by all accounts, has gone missing, supposedly in America and dead, but that story changes when he's confronted by a homicide detective, Walter Dew (also famous for being one of the detective's to find Jack the Ripper's last canon victim, Mary Jane Kelly). Belle (Cora) is alive for all he knows. But left behind her are her jewelery, tons of clothes and other things she loved. Crippen also has a mistress, Ethel Le Neve, who is seen wearing Belle's clothes and jewels.

Dew is satisfied that no murder has taken place but wants to talk to Crippen again, only to find that he and Le Neve have metaphorically flown the coup. Very suspicious now, he conducts an even more thorough search of the house and finds a horrific discovery in the coal cellar. A mass of skin, organs and some clothes and curlers with hair attached. No bones, no fingers, no head are with them. How did this small and thin man who seems so nice manage to do what he did, if he did it that is.

Crippin and Le Neve are on a ship to Canada (with the plan to go on to America) that happens to be equipped with a Marconi wireless telegraph system, invented by Marconi in the early 1900s.

Marconi is not a physicist or a scientist, which he readily admits too, but manages to do something others before him have failed to do. But there is some contention as to whether he really did invent it, which the book covers, along with other trials and triumphs of this fascinating man's life.

On board the ship Crippen has no idea that he and Le Neve has been sussed out by the captain and that messages are flying through the air back and forth regarding them and that Dew is on another boat out to apprehend them when they arrive in Canada. The race is on.

The book goes back and forth between the lives of the two men and the last half covers the race to capture Crippen, with a wrap up of the lives of both afterwards.

Larson has a lot of notes, but unfortunately they aren't numbered in the book and you have to keep checking back and forth if you want to read them in the right order. Otherwise, this is a great read and highly recommended. Another plus for me is that Larson is a Seattleite.

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