Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Erik Larson, IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS: Love, Terror and an American Fami

Like many other people I know, I loved Larson's DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY. But I was disappointed in BEASTS; I have to confess I read the first few hundred pages but didn't finish it. I think the topic of an ambassador's family in 1930s Berlin is fascinating and important; but while DEVIL had that wonderful dual-plot structure (vicious murders/building of the World's Fair), this book seems to be structured as a serial accounting of the different Nazis that the ambassador's daughter flirted with, talked with (including Hitler), or slept with. Part of my problem was that I didn't find her engaging as a character--although perhaps my expectations are unfair, the result of 20/20 hindsight, an understanding she couldn't possibly have; she is by turns persistently astonished by what she sees around her and sympathetic to Germany's right to rise up.


A good murder mystery/midwest tale. Told in two time periods: when Jody is 3 and her father is killed and her mother disappears; and when Jody is in her twenties and the supposed murderer Billy Crosby is set free by his newly-minted lawyer son. There are very few cliches here--Billy doesn't reform; and the murders mount. But once I found out whodunnit, I felt vaguely disappointed because although there were many clues (as to whodunnit) that pointed to other people, there were few (if any) clues, psychological or circumstantial, (and I breezed back through the book) pointing to the person who had. I always find that a bit of a trick. But Pickard writes wonderfully--some moments just lift off the page.