Plano Reads: True Crime

June’s Mystery Book Club is focusing on True Crime. We’re doing a What Are You Reading Now? format and can’t wait to hear about true crime books you’ve read or are currently reading. 

You can join us to virtually discuss your favorite true crime on June 17 at 7 p.m. using Zoom! Register online here.

What is True Crime?

True Crime is a literary genre where the author examines an actual crime and writes about the actions of real people. Most true crime books include murder and a large percentage are the stories of serial killers. The beginning of the genre is most often attributed to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which was published in four parts in the New Yorker in 1965 and then as a bestselling book in 1966. 

One of the most popular true crime books of the last twenty years is Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City (2003), the story of a serial killer during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, won the Edgar Award for fact-crime writing and stayed on bestseller lists for a decade.  It continues to be checked out regularly from the library in print, ebook and audio formats. This title, along with all true crime titles, can be found in the non-fiction collection of the library under number 364.1523.

This New York Times bestseller intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.

Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his World’s Fair Hotel just west of the fairgrounds. It was a torture palace complete with a dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.

Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.

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Although I’m not a regular reader of true crime, I was hearing so much about this book that I just had to read it. Larson has the amazing ability to write nonfiction so that it reads like a novel and it is impossible to put down. The reader learns so much about the background of the 1893 World’s Fair while also learning the horrifying details of serial killer Henry H. Holmes. This book is highly recommended and might just get you hooked on the true crime genre. You’ll also want to check out Larson’s most recent book, The Splendid and the Vile, about Churchill during World War II. 

Kelly, Librarian
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Erik Larson has written 8 books, six of which have been New York Times bestsellers. Interestingly, his first book was about an event in Texas. Isaac’s Storm, published in 2003, is about the hurricane in Galveston in 1900. 

Learn more about Erik Larson and his books at his website

All are available from PPL in either print or as an electronic resource. 

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