The Beast of Chicago
by Rick Geary
(NBM, 2003)

Behind that sleepy-eyed countenance lurked a mad genius for murder.

H.H. Holmes -- not his real name, and one of many he used during his life -- may be America's first serial killer. And, while his litany of deceit and murder crosses many borders over the years, the most brutal chapter of his life resides at the Castle, a large commercial and residential edifice of his design in Chicago in the late 1800s. There, in secret chambers and air-tight rooms, he killed and dismembered countless victims, often young females, in numbers that could well stretch into triple digits.

Rick Geary puts his fascination for true crime and the macabre to work in another volume in his ongoing series that began with A Treasury of Victorian Murder. Told in straightforward, matter-of-fact tones, Geary recounts the life story of Holmes, born Herman W. Mudgett and known variously as H.M. Howard, D.T. Pratt, Harry Gordon, Edward Hatch and more.

This hardbound volume (a paperback version is in the works) boasts stylish, black-and-white illustrations on thick, high-quality paper. There's nothing to worry the squeamish here; the horror is described in the narrative while the artwork leaves those details to the reader's imagination. The simple pen-and-ink drawings might seem tame for a tale of this nature, but they provide a perfect contrast, masking the killer's nature in normal, everyday surroundings. And, while I wish Geary had spent a little less time on Holmes's methodical destruction of the Pietzel family and a little more on the horrific events in the Castle, I applaud the overall presentation and the dry approach that avoids sensationalism -- an all-too-easy angle to take when the subject matter is so ripe for exploitation.

True crime and horror buffs are sure to enjoy this book, which uncovers a monster hidden in plain sight.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 10 October 2003

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