by Erik Larson
For more than half of Erik Larson’s 2006 book, readers have to wonder how the best-selling author is ever going to bring together the story of the invention of wireless telegraphy with the true story of a famous English crime.
“Thunderstruck” is a narrative history that bounces back and forth between the lives of world-renown Guglielmo Marconi and one Hawley Crippen, an American caught up in a sham of a marriage. Once Marconi’s network of transmitting towers and receivers develops to the point of enabling easy wireless trans-Atlantic messaging — and once Crippen apparently has had enough of his wife’s browbeating — what emerges is one of the great chases of all time, one followed around the world thanks to Marconi’s invention.
Ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship dispatches fly through the ether between England and North America, building suspense.
Will Scotland Yard find Cora Crippen alive?
Will the ghastly partial remains of a human being turn out to be the overbearing wife of the kind, timid man?
Will nascent wireless traffic be intercepted by the wrong people, including the yellow journalism practitioners of the early 20th century, and blow the capture of the suspect?
The biography of Marconi almost becomes a by-product of the drama, but it’s an interesting life story all the same. And the 392 pages of the Crown Publishers hardcover eventually make for can’t-put-this-down reading. — bz