Book Review: The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo


Author: Roseanne Montillo
TitleThe Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2015)
Summary/Review:

This book appeared to follow the formula of The Devil in the White City, focusing on a city in 19th century through the lens of major events and a mass murderer operating in that city.  In this case the city is Boston, the murderer is Jesse Pomeroy, and the event is the Great Fire of 1872.  Except, that the book isn’t really structured this way.

It is in fact more of a straightforward biography of Pomeroy, a teenage boy in Charlestown and then South Boston who tortured smaller children, and eventually began murdering them in the 1870s.  He is sometimes called “America’s First Serial Killer,” although that is not factually true, but his crimes occurred in a period of growing moral panic about children’s behavior (also not for the first or last time).  Montillo documents Pomeroy’s abusive family life, his gruesome crimes, his trial and public denunciation, and his long life in prison where he spent decades in solitary and made several escape attempts.

I’m not a fan of the true crime genre, so with the book so focused on Pomeroy it doesn’t appeal to me as much as a general history of Boston at the time of Pomeroy’s murders would.  Montillo’s attempts to link in other events are few and feel a bit forced and unrelated to the lifelong biography of the murderer.  She does also focus greatly on the life and work of Herman Melville, who has a connection to Boston but had moved to New York prior to the Pomeroy murders.  Montillo draws on themes of family dysfunction, mental illness, and monomania to draw Pomeroy and Melville together, but again the links feel strained rather than illuminating.

Recommended booksThe Night Inspector by Frederick Busch, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and A City So Grand by Stephen Puleo
Rating: ***

Book Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


Author :Truman Capote
Title: In Cold Blood
Narrator: Scott Brick
Publication Info: New York, NY : Random House Audio, p2006.
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

This is one of those books that’s long been on the list of “Why haven’t I read this yet?”  In Cold Blood is known for being the prototypical non-fiction work written in the novelistic style and a forerunner of the true crime genre. Through Capote’s extensive research he is able to recreate before, during, and after of a brutal quadruple murder in Holcomb, Kansas from the points of view of the victims, perpetrators, investigators, and variety of friends, neighbors, and townsfolk.  Capote’s writing style is impeccable and the story is griping. Yet there’s a nagging doubt in my mind of just how much of this is true to life and how much was designed to make a good story.  Despite being a well-written story, there’s also is a gratuitousness to it that left me feeling a bit dirty afterwards.

Recommended booksMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt  and Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.
Rating: ***1/2