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Thunderstruck    by Erik Larson order for
by Erik Larson
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Crown, 2006 (2006)
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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to read an exquisite novel by John Boyne entitled Crippen: A Novel of Murder. In that novel, I was introduced to the infamous murderer, Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, the American who had moved to London early in the twentieth century, and Inspector Walter Dew of Scotland Yard, the indefatigable Edwardian detective whose hunt for the murderer Crippen became one of the most intriguing stories in the history of criminal justice.

Dozens of other major and minor characters inhabited the periphery of Boyne's novel Crippen, but the whole story was - of course - merely a fictionalized account of an historical event. As a novel, it was splendid, but I wondered: What was the real story?

Now, much to my delight, I have discovered Thunderstruck by Erik Larson, an exemplary account in which Crippen and Dew reappear, but others - in an amazing intersection of disparate lives - also share the story. Here readers meet the tireless genius, Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless communication. Readers also meet Captain Henry George Kendall, the vigilant commanding officer of the SS Montrose, a Canadian ship that would cross from Antwerp, Belgium, to Quebec City, Canada, with Crippen - one of history's most enigmatic murderers - among the passengers. Readers also meet the star-crossed and ill-fated women in Crippen's life: Charlotte Jane Bell, Cora Turner, Belle Elmore, and Ethel LeNeve, Finally, readers are introduced to the secretive travelers, Mr. John Robinson and his adolescent son Edmund, two people about whom Captain Kendall was more than a little curious during the transatlantic crossing to Quebec City!

Larson, with his superb narrative skills, weaves together the parallel tales - featuring the historical figures noted above - that propel Thunderstruck toward 'a relentlessly suspenseful meeting on the waters of the North Atlantic.' A dark and grisly story of love and murder, a story of indefatigable inventive genius, and a story of relentless pursuit, Thunderstruck documents the curious and complex ways in which dissimilar and unconnected people are paradoxically united and divided by time, technology, and crime.

Erik Larson is the author of five books, including the particularly noteworthy Isaac's Storm and The Devil in the White City. Here, in what is his best outing yet, Larson deploys a colorful cast of fascinating characters within his spell-binding prose as he chronicles one of history's most intriguing intersections of scientific ingenuity, steadfast commitment to duty, and blood-curdling murder. Thunderstruck reads like an Edgar Award winning murder mystery, but it proves the old adage that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Read it and you'll not soon forget this narrative in which two men figure prominently: Crippen, 'a mild mannered murderer who, as Raymond Chandler wrote in a letter to a friend, 'You can't help liking,'' and the genius Marconi 'whose obsessive quest to invent and perfect the perfect wireless would eventually change the world.' Don't miss the opportunity to read Thunderstruck and discover for yourself how and why Marconi - strange as it may seem - became Crippen's worst nightmare!

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