I have to admit, when I first began reading The Devil in the White City, I enjoyed it. The more I read, though, the more repetitive, predictable, and boring it became. A better author could have taken the information that Larson gathered and produced a marvelous book from it. Larson’s book fails because of the cheap storyline with Holmes and the overwhelming quantity of details that he offers his reader. If Larson had just written a biography of Burnham, or a less fictionalized account of the construction of The White City, the book could have been a success. The most unfortunate moments of the book are his attempts to fictionalize history, particularly in the Holmes subplot.
I could barely read the sections about Holmes’ young, naive victims. There was too much gore and too much heart-break. As I read each of the Holmes sections, I wondered how Larson’s publishing company let him get away with his Holmes scenes—they were poorly written and distracting. While I’m sure that the company thought that the horrifying murders of these girls would sell books, I find myself incredibly disgusted by these scenes and their presence in The Devil in the White City. I can understand why many people are fascinated by the depths of human evil, but Larson’s treatment of Holmes’ brutal, psychotic murders was completely insensitive, exploitative, and senseless. The tale of the White City didn’t need a distracter in the form of Holmes; and given Larson’s lack of information on Holmes, the Holmes chapters were quite awful and unreadable. How many times did we read a comparison between the blue of Holmes’ eyes and Lake Michigan? Or between placid waters and his eyes? Also, because Holmes (like most serial killers) followed a pattern and chose similiar victims every time, every Holmes section was a repetition of the previous one. The only interesting details about Holmes were related to his hotel and its strange architecture. I’m pretty sure that Larson only included Holmes in the book so that he could have the clever title The Devil in the White City and work with the contrasting plot lines of a heroic architect building a white city, and an evil madman murdering in dark corners of the city.