The White City

( 3 )

Overview

It is the year of our lord, 1893. The crackle of electricity's first sparks, the mechanical whine of Ferris's wheel, the tinkling of crystal from the majestic city atop the hill--the sounds of a new era pervade the air as the century's last World's Fair commences in Chicago.

But darkness lurks beneath the metropolis so austere it has been dubbed the White City. Strikes loom on the horizon, racism runs rampant, and a murderer unlike any America has ever seen before is on the ...

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The White City

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Overview

It is the year of our lord, 1893. The crackle of electricity's first sparks, the mechanical whine of Ferris's wheel, the tinkling of crystal from the majestic city atop the hill--the sounds of a new era pervade the air as the century's last World's Fair commences in Chicago.

But darkness lurks beneath the metropolis so austere it has been dubbed the White City. Strikes loom on the horizon, racism runs rampant, and a murderer unlike any America has ever seen before is on the loose, terrorizing the city. His crimes are so brutal, newspapers have christened him the Husker. Hiding behind the cloak of a city in chaos, he taunts his pursuers, littering the grounds of the fair with the corpses of children as he slips through the shadows.

Dr. Elizabeth Handley, the first forensic psychologist of her kind, has been called in to capture the killer, but when the son of prominent architect William Rockland goes missing, the case takes on an entirely new urgency. In this city of bombastic politics and cutthroat egos, everyone has his own agenda, but time is running out. As she races to save the boy, Dr. Handley fights to maintain her sanity as the line between captor and quarry blurs, and violence casts its spell.

From the depths of the seediest brothels to the pristine enclaves of the elite, The White City is a strange, beguiling first novel, a thriller that masterfully blends fact and fiction. An exhilarating voyeur's glimpse at Chicago in all its glory, it also probes the dark side that was never far from its core.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A macabre intelligence pervades this novel, as history and fiction by turns complement and taunt one another. The wide range of characters Michod vividly captures at their breaking points are not only confronting a serial killer blended into late nineteenth century Chicago, they are also challenging us to contemplate the fear and thrills we locate uniquely in violence. A thinking person's thriller. "

- Matthew Pearl, author of The New York Times Bestseller The Dante Club

"The White City is a spooky, atmospheric, first-rate historical thriller. Alec Michod is a bold new writer, who has based his story on America's first famous serial killer, and set it amidst all the turbulence and color of turn-of-the-century Chicago."

- Kevin Baker, author of The New York Times Notable Book Dreamland

"Alec Michod's The White City is an exuberant first novel fully engaged with the extravagant display of the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893. Delightfully plotted as a thriller, any number of fumbling detectives ply their trade in the false landscape of the phantasmagoric city. But Michod is up to more than an entertainment. He unmasks the greed and deception that lies under the fantasy and fun, to expose the underside of the American Dream."

- Maureen Howard, author of The New York Times Notable Book Big As Life

"Find a blanket, pour a drink, settle beneath your lamp: Here is a stylish and irresistible novel that will ruin your sleep and follow you into the day. Something sinister is afoot in 1893 Chicago, and you won't get much done until peace is restored. But be warned, however, because in Alec Michod's dazzling The White City, the wind off Lake Michigan has a way of playing with the light."

- Peter Gadol, author of Light at Dusk and The Long Rain

Matthew Pearl

A macabre intelligence pervades this novel, as history and fiction by turns complement and taunt one another. The wide range of characters Michod vividly captures at their breaking points are not only confronting a serial killer blended into late nineteenth century Chicago, they are also challenging us to contemplate the fear and thrills we locate uniquely in violence. A thinking person's thriller.
Kevin Baker

The White City is a spooky, atmospheric, first-rate historical thriller. Alec Michod is a bold new writer, who has based his story on America's first famous serial killer, and set it amidst all the turbulence and color of turn-of-the-century Chicago.
Maureen Howard

Alec Michod's The White City is an exuberant first novel fully engaged with the extravagant display of the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893. Delightfully plotted as a thriller, any number of fumbling detectives ply their trade in the false landscape of the phantasmagoric city. But Michod is up to more than an entertainment. He unmasks the greed and deception that lies under the fantasy and fun, to expose the underside of the American Dream.
Peter Gadol

Find a blanket, pour a drink, settle beneath your lamp: Here is a stylish and irresistible novel that will ruin your sleep and follow you into the day. Something sinister is afoot in 1893 Chicago, and you won't get much done until peace is restored. But be warned, however, because in Alec Michod's dazzling The White City, the wind off Lake Michigan has a way of playing with the light.
Publishers Weekly
It's always a tough choice with historical fiction: risk bogging down the story with painstaking accuracy, or play fast and loose with the facts. Debut novelist Michod takes the latter tack in his fast-paced, sensational rush through the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, where the hunt is on for a serial killer who preys on young boys. Beginning with an immediate sensory whirl-wind whipping off Lake Michigan, bustling exhibition halls, excited crowds-this literate thriller pulls readers along pell-mell until the end. When young Billy Rockland, son of a prominent Chicago architect, wanders away from his parents, he's discovered by the ominous Skurlock, who whisks him into the fair's dark fringes. Meanwhile, the corpses of mutilated boys have the city in a panic. Add to the mix Potter Palmer, a prominent industrialist and friend of the grieving Rocklands; a twisted subplot involving striking workers and blackmail; the intrepid (but sometimes disoriented) forensic psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Handley; and of course the killer himself, who may or may not be the man dragging around the uncomplaining Billy. Michod keeps the suspense high, and he enlivens his tale with plenty of period visuals; he also indulges in a stylized, torqued syntax that can be awkward. While first-novel prose excesses may be excusable, fuzzy characterization is not; the urges and motivations of the main players are implausible at key moments, and readers may find it difficult to suspend disbelief and sympathize. This is a smart, daring attempt to weave fact and fiction, but here's hoping that Michod's next story doesn't get lost in the razzle-dazzle. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A grisly serial killer-they don't call him the Husker for nothing-stalks the 1893 Chicago's World's Fair. That filleting knife of his would be horrible enough if little boys weren't his target of choice. When eight-year-old Billy Richmond, son of a prominent architect, vanishes, the press screams bloody murder. Enter the famed Pinkertons as well as an elite force of FBI forerunners to augment the men in blue. Enter too Dr. Elizabeth Handley: the first woman to graduate from Harvard in psychology, a recognized expert in pathology, and just a bit of a weirdo herself. The cigar-smoking psychologist, whose eccentricities pique but don't quite sustain interest, lets the cops and the Pinkertons do the conventional clue-seeking while she sets about assembling her Husker bio-file, from how he must look to what makes him a hater. Meantime, the death toll mounts. Millionaire Thomas Palmer, owner of the Palmer House, pumps money into the sleuthing effort, but the vicious Husker remains elusive. At last Dr. Handley gets an unexpected tip that leads to a scary underground chase in and out of Chicago's sewer system, with Handley pursuing the Husker and the cops hot-footing it after Handley. At length someone gets caught. It might even be the Husker. First-novel atmospherics and setting are done to a turn. It's the cast that's undercooked. Agent: Kim Goldstein/Carol Mann Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312313982
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 999,142
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Alec Michod is a graduate of Columbia University's MFA writers program. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and the literary journal Conjunctions. The White City is his first novel.

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Reading Group Guide

1. How does the theme of contrasts--black versus white, rich versus poor, good versus evil--play out in the plot of the novel? How does this theme relate to the larger social issues of the day?

2. How does the 1893 fair speak to notions we have about the American Dream? How does the author play with the notion of progress?

3. How does the author work the fleeting nature of the White City itself into the lives of his characters and his story?

4. Discuss the significance of the wind in The White City.

5. Why does Billy stay with Skurlock, even when he is presented with a chance to escape?

6. Why are all the characters so dark? What does this say about Chicago in 1893 and, by extension, about America in 1893?

7. The language in The White City is very idiosyncratic at times. How is the language distinctive?

8. Where you shocked by the novel's ending? Why?

9. How did reading The White City affect your view of the world?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 3 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2011

    Gripping, grisly thriller

    "The White City" is a fast-paced, fun, fantastical ride through an extraordinary historical moment, in this case the 1893 Chicago World's Fair or Columbian Exposition. The tapestry is rich--electricity was debuted at the fair, as were hamburgers, an early fax machine, among other treasures, but most unexpected and unplanned was this country's first serial killer.

    Michod gives a story familiar to readers of "The Devil in the White City" a more complex, darker look into what might have gone on, as a brilliant Harvard-educated detective, Elizabeth Handley, a pioneering figure, to be sure, sets off in search of a killer known only as Clemantis. It's an unexpected name, but think about it: at the time, they didn't know the killer, the press would have created a name to try to humanize the monster.

    Narratively layered over that story is the story of a missing boy, son of a prominent family who live in their very own white city. Themes of race, class, sex all are artfully and memorably blended together to create an unforgettable read, unlike any whodunit I've read recently. In the end, though, Alec Michod's "The White City" dismantles the American Dream.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2014

    Bad

    I will keep this review as short as possible!!!!! BORRRRRING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2014

    eaglejal

    A mindless senseless story rambilling on and on does npt even have a story line hard to comprehend bad reading

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

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