2007: 178. Thunderstruck

“On Wednesday, July 20, 1910, as a light fog drifted along the River Scheldt, Capt. Henry George Kendall prepared his ship, the SS Montrose, for what should have been the most routine of voyages, from Antwerp direct to Quebec City, Canada.”

Thunderstruck,  Erik Larson

       Thunderstruck is by Erik Larson, the author of The Devil in the White City.  In that book, Larson wrote about the Chicago’s World Fair of 1893, and about a serial killer, Dr. H.H. Holmes, who was terrorizing the city at the same time.  It was a huge best seller, but I thought that while both stories were darn interesting, that Larson didn’t really do much to convince me that they had much to do with each other. I understood where he was going with what he was doing, he just didn’t successfully bring me along for the ride.  

       In Thunderstruck, Larson’s at it again, telling the story of Marconi’s invention of wireless communication and also the story of Dr. Crippen, one of the most famous murders in Victorian England.  Here, the stories definitely have a link, in that it was the use of Marconi’s wireless device that allowed the authorities to capture Crippen, who, along with his mistress Ethel Le Neve, had fled the country for America.  Not only was the Captain of the ship they were on able to wire the police in Britain that Crippen and Le Neve were on board, the police were able to take a faster ship, and be at the docks in Montreal when they arrived.  Moreover, the press got wind of the chase, and the entire world was watching it with bated breath to see what would happen.  Even better, Crippen and Le Neve had no idea, since the ship passengers couldn’t get the news.  The story was huge, and Marconi’s technology got a needed buzz from it (which would only increase when it was instrumental in saving a number of passengers from the Titanic).  This is a good story, no matter who gets to tell it - exciting and a little sordid, and Larson doesn’t let us down when we get to the chase.

       My problem with the book, though, is while the chase stuff is so, so interesting, and the story of the murder itself (which he slowly builds up from Crippen’s boyhood days in Michigan through his hanging) is pretty interesting, the counterpoint stories on Marconi are so, so dull, and just don’t really fit in to the book at all.  A chapter on the background of Marconi would suffice - we don’t need his whole life story.  Yet again, Larson tries to tell two stories in tandem, and doesn’t convince me, at least that telling them that way illuminates the other at all.  Disappointing.


Recommended for:  People who like to read historical murder stories and don’t mind slogging through some science-y bits; or, people who like to read historic science stories and don’t mind slogging through some murder-y bits. 


Date Completed: 11/16/07; Flying from Memphis to D.C.

Categories: Non-Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017