Police officers use a number of everyday inventions in the course of tracking down criminals. But thus far, it has never occurred to the good folks of "CSI" to intercut their forensic investigations with heart-pounding scenes of Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone.
It's the particular genius of writer Erik Larson to make such connections. In "Thunderstruck," his follow-up to his bestselling "Devil in the White City," he tackles turn-of-the-century murderer Dr. Hawley Crippen, whose murder and mutilation of his wife shocked England and inspired Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window."
Police found it impossible to believe the gentle, undersized Crippen was a killer – until the "mild murderer" fled for America with his lover. They were caught, thanks to an observant ship's captain and a new technology, Guglielmo Marconi's wireless telegraph. In his new "Thunderstruck," Larson tells the story of the two men – the killer and the inventor. The book's jumpy structure unfortunately means a reader has to switch gears just when things are getting interesting, and Marconi's supreme self-absorption does his biographer no favors. And as with "Devil," Larson thrives on details. If digressions into what sort of hair curler Edwardian women used are going to annoy rather than enthrall you, save your money and wait for the next Michael Connelly thriller. Grade: B