Not Awestruck Until the End of Thunderstruck

Thunderstruck (2006) by Erik Larson started slowly. It took me a few months to read it, because I kept losing interesting during the first half of the book. It is about the collision of two events in the early 1900s. One is the invention of the wireless, which Marconi invented and perfected. His ability to transmit messages across the ocean caused a sensation. This seemingly magical communication method helped to catch a fugitive killer. This is the second event, in which Dr. Harvey Crippin’s wife Belle goes missing.


Crippin, a mild-mannered and kind man, tells people that his wife has finally left him, as their marriage was an unhappy one. He even reports on her travels in America, noting that she has gotten sick and died. But as neighbors worry and detectives begin investigating, they find a mass of flesh and tissue that appears to be Belle’s body in the basement of the doctor’s home. Meanwhile, Crippin, and his lover Ethel, have fled London. They are disguised as a father and a teenage son on a boat crossing the Atlantic.

Wireless communication makes it possible for Chief Inspector Dew to receive a message from the ship’s captain, saying that he believes to have the fugitives on board. Dew takes a chance and catches a boat that will beat Crippin and Ethel to Canada. There he meets them and arrests them both.

Once this part of the story takes off, the book reads like a bestselling thriller. However, it is a true story. That’s what I love about Larson’s books: that they are based on historical facts and he pieces these amazing tales together with archival research. At the end of Thunderstruck, Larson explains his research adventures in old libraries and archives in Europe. The act of writing such a book sounds just as exciting as the story itself.

I found this book because of you, my blog readers! I read The Devil in the White City, another of Larson’s book and what I think might be his best, a while ago. When I posted about that one, several of you mentioned that Thunderstruck was also a great one to read. For me, it was slow to start and hard to get into, but once I did, I spent an entire afternoon on my couch just devouring the rest of the story. I ignored other responsibilities to finish this gripping tale of murder, deception, and invention.