The Devil in The White City tried to be engaging by adopting novelistic traits, and to say that it succeeded is an understatement. While the build-up to the fair was mildly slow, it was necessary to make the success of the fair feel hard-fought, in the face of differing architects, deaths, and even mother nature doing her very best to sabotage the fair whenever she got the chance. It also makes the vivacity of the six month long fair all that more sorrowful towards the end. In any case, whenever it might lag, there’s always a chilling chapter about Holmes to pick it right up. Larson also plays up the disparity between The White City and Chicago to great influence; the architects do their best to keep The White City sparkling clean, while main city Chicago is so filthy, that the dead cadavers of various animals make their graves in the streets and a chance rain can upset the entire sewage system. This is utilized more towards the end, but when it is, it works spectacularly.
Larson takes great care to point out that city life offered more freedom and opportunity for women than rural life, usually when he’s discussing how women fell victim to Holmes’ terrifying charm. The glimpse into the utter excess of life during that time period were well placed and received, especially contrasted against the mushrooming unions and a tanking economy. The star is invariably the Fair; many inventions we take for granted were first showed there. For example, the story of the Ferris wheel; it was so cleverly designed that people thought it was unsafe, as it looked too delicate. The stereotypical Arabian musical riff (you know, the snake charmer one) was actually invented by one of the architects to accompany the belly dancers who performed at the Fair. Shredded Wheat was first shown at the Fair, and predicted to be a flop. Once we get to the Fair, it’s fascinating. It doesn’t hurt that Holmes’ criminal life picks up speed at the same time and at a similar pace.
The way Larson uses his research