A true story of love, murder, and the end of the world’s “great hush.”
In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.
Set in Edwardian London and on the stormy coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck evokes the dynamism of those years when great shipping companies competed to build the biggest, fastest ocean liners; scientific advances dazzled the public with visions of a world transformed; and the rich outdid one another with ostentatious displays of wealth. Against this background, Marconi races against incredible odds and relentless skepticism to perfect his invention: the wireless, a prime catalyst for the emergence of the world we know today. Meanwhile, Crippen, “the kindest of men,” nearly commits the perfect murder.
With his unparalleled narrative skills, Erik Larson guides us through a relentlessly suspenseful chase over the waters of the North Atlantic. Along the way, he tells of a sad and tragic love affair that was described on the front pages of newspapers around the world, a chief inspector who found himself strangely sympathetic to the killer and his lover, and a driven and compelling inventor who transformed the way we communicate.
Larson's new suspense-spiked history links Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless telegraphy, with Hawley Crippen, a mild-mannered homeopathic doctor in turn-of-the-century London. While Larson tells their stories side by side, most listeners will struggle to find a reason for connecting the two men other than that both lived around the same time and that Goldwyn's plummy voice narrates their lives. Only on the final disc does the logic behind the intertwining of the stories become apparent and the tale gain speed. At this point, the chief inspector of Scotland Yard sets out after Crippen on a transatlantic chase, spurred by the suspicion that he committed a gruesome murder. Larson's account of the iconoclastic Marconi's quest to prove his new technology is less than engaging and Crippen's life before the manhunt was tame. Without a very compelling cast to entertain during Larson's slow, careful buildup, many listeners may not make it to the breathless final third of the book when it finally come alive.
Wonderful, Gripping Read
As was the case in Devil in the White City, Erik Larsen again weaves two stories smoothly together: The account of a New York chemist in the early 1900s accused of doing away with his wife, and a contemporaneous story of Marconi's invention of radio and it's practical application. The common denominator between these accounts is revealed late in the book with many twists and turns.
Larsen's writing places the reader squarely in the scene at the time. Facts are laid out in such a way as to make these real life characters and their stories compelling. Those who find historical accounts of true events, crime drama, invention and intrigue will surely enjoy Thunderstruck.
Pretty good read, great ending
Last 1/3 is thrilling but takes too long to get the guts of the story. Devil is much better. Learning about Marconi is really interesting and I would rather have read more details about the science of radio than the endless often tedious exposition on Crippen's dull existence. The two stories never really connect in an interesting way like they did in Devil.
I read this entire book within 48 hours. It is one of the best I've read in a long time. Interesting, exciting and factual, I learned a lot while enjoying the history and mystery that is so nicely woven together by the author. If you like murder mysteries this one is sure to draw you in. Larson put a ton of work into this as you will see by his footnotes and documentation. Can't wait to read more by this gem of a writer.