Book Review: Firestorm at Peshtigo

Book Review: Firestorm at Peshtigo

About an hour from where I live lies the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. For years, I drove right past the main highway leading to this town, never even realizing its importance in history–and yes, some critical history happened there. But unfortunately, few then and even today know much about it, due to the disaster being overshadowed by a more important event, the Chicago fire, on Sunday, October 8, 1871. On that same day, while close to 250 people perished in Chicago, nearly 2,000 perished in the firestorm at the lumber town of Peshtigo and surrounding areas. The book’s back cover says the town of Peshtigo “was truck with a five-mile-wide wall of flames, borne on tornado-force winds of one hundred miles per hour that tore across more than 2,400 square miles of land, obliterating the town in less than one hour and killing more than two thousand people.” Firestorm at Peshtigo:…

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Review: H. H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil

Review: H. H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil

Earlier this year the History Channel featured a much-hyped and rather gruesome series called American Ripper. The series speculated that H. H. Holmes, whom some have dubbed “America’s first serial killer” (which isn’t true, by the way), was also Jack the Ripper. If you’ve watched my blog, you might have seen my candid review of the flawed TV series. After watching the series, I recalled my delight in reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (one of my favorite authors, by the way). Soon I noticed Adam Selzer’s book (Adam was featured as a consultant in American Ripper), and after reading snippets, I decided to purchase it for my Kindle. What a great read! If you’ve read The Devil in the White City, you’ll find this book to be not only supplemental but even more comprehensive in exploring Holmes and his history and character. Selzer often plumbs the depths…

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American Ripper Heavy on Gore but Light on Proof

American Ripper Heavy on Gore but Light on Proof

The year 1888 was busy in the annals of crime. While Jack the Ripper preyed on prostitutes in London, H. H. Holmes oversaw the construction of a large hotel/office building designed with unique amenities. It included hidden rooms, doors literally going nowhere, an airtight vault, and a chute going all the way to a basement crematorium. By the time of his execution in 1896, H. H. Holmes, Chicago serial killer at the time of the 1893 World’s Fair, had reportedly murdered more than twenty people. The History Channel series American Ripper gives us the H. H. Holmes treatment but with a twist.  The premise is that H. H. Holmes was also Jack the Ripper. Jeff Mudgett, Holmes’s great-great grandson is determined to prove his ancestor was the notorious Jack and partners with Amaryllis Fox, a former CIA operative, to hunt down the proof. First-Rate Production First, the positive. This production is top notch when it comes…

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What Henry James Taught Me about Writing Suspense

What Henry James Taught Me about Writing Suspense

If you’ve read any works by Henry James, American-born British author (1843-1916), great suspense probably isn’t the first thought that leaps to your mind. Consider the all-important first sentence of his famous novella The Turn of the Screw. The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child. That’s sixty-two words in the first sentence alone. By today’s standards, such writing is “wordy” at best and “frankly hard to read” at worst. But writing styles come and go just like the bell-bottoms of the seventies, and during James’s day, this was cutting-edge stuff. Perhaps the economical writing so popular today…

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