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

Adam Selzer. Skyhorse, $26.99 (460p) ISBN 978-1-5107-1343-7
Was late 19th-century mass murderer H.H. Holmes motivated more by psychological compulsions than practical concerns? Selzer (Ghost of Chicago) suggests the latter, diverging from the perspective put forth in Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. He works hard to assemble historical evidence that strays from accounts by Larson, and others, but he never loses sight of the fact that Holmes “almost certainly killed at least nine people, ruined the lives of numerous others, and seemed to feel very little guilt about it.” This highly readable account of the case walks readers through Holmes’s nonviolent crimes before getting to his first murder. Selzer believes that Holmes’s 1891 killing of Julia Conner, a woman he had sued for nonpayment of a loan, was, like his others, committed, not out of bloodlust, but as a “necessary part of furthering his swindling operations and protecting his lifestyle.” He makes a convincing argument that current perceptions of Holmes are not always solidly grounded, even as he concedes that there’s “a lot of mystery left to be solved” about the case, a concession that will lead many aficionados of quality true-crime narrative to monitor his Mysterious Chicago blog for updates. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/23/2017
Release date: 04/01/2017
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