Who doesn’t love serial killers? And doesn’t everybody adore World’s Fairs? So it stands to reason that putting the two of them together would be a slam dunk. That’s what Erik Larson (no Savage Dragon) did with his nonfiction book The Devil in the White City, which parallels the stories of the architect of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the killings of HH Holmes, who lured victims to a specially rigged hotel he built near the fairgrounds.
The truth is that the book never finds much of interest in the World’s Fair story, and you feel like all of this stuff was added just to make the serial killer business a little less prurient. But why be ashamed of that? Holmes was running an operation straight out of Hostel – death chambers, secret rooms, creepy passageways – the whole gamut of nastiness.
Paramount has optioned the book, which they had once gotten in 2005 for Tom Cruise’s production shingle. I imagine that whatever comes of the script we’re going to see a lot more serial killer and a lot less architect trying to make the fairgrounds – the dramatic elements are obvious.
Interestingly, Erik Larson seems to be making a career of welding lowbrow crime onto highbrow history – his latest book is Thunderstruck, which has nothing to do with AC/DC but rather juxtaposes the story of the development of the telegraph with the story of a murderer, HH Crippen, who was caught on a boat in the Atlantic thanks to the telegraph. Fucking HH bastards!