I've done it, I'm a bit out of breath but I've reached the end of Dark Hearts of Chicago by William Dunmore & Helen Rappaport in time to post on publication day and I haven't read a book like this in ages, historical thriller.
Firstly I must offer health advice for the first-time reader of this one and if big fat heavy books put you off you just need to gather some special equipment. Some of us managed it with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.You need to just sort out your book prop pillow (here's mine from Levenger webstore...but possibly no longer available )because it's another premature baby size tome.Just keep wiggling your toes to avoid loss of circulation to your extremities and take regular strolls around the armchair.Beyond that perhaps flight socks and drinks to hand and just settle down for your journey to 1890's Chicago without the bother of going to the airport or getting on a plane.
I can't begin to imagine what it takes to write a book like this, steady historical detail, often refined down to a sentence or a brief reference but you feel certain it will all have been verified to within an inch of its life.
Emily Strauss, cub reporter and very much on trial with the Pulitzer newspaper empire is on the trail of the disappearing women at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.The meat packing giants Darke & Hartz (get it?) have a lot more going on than the distribution of hog chops around the US and you quickly realise there is a sinister underworld at work with links to the local asylum and much more.
I was easily drawn in by the action and the historical detail which I'll admit can sometimes be off-putting in a book if it's too overt, but in this case it blended wonderfully and I was quickly enjoying and expecting it.
There is one very clever device in Dark Hearts of Chicago which I was a bit slow to cotton on to, at the top of each page you have the date and the time of the action on the page.
I spent ages missing the point and wished I'd sussed it sooner.
There are regular mentions of the time within the linear narrative and as the plot started to race along and I became more and more engrossed, and less and less able to put the book down, I suddenly realised that I was using the clock to tell the time within the book.
Someone would say "Meeting at 5.30pm" and my eyes would flick to the top of the page, 3.14pm, great they've got time to do this or go there. It added a surprisingly enjoyable element to the reading.
I'm hoping Chicago-based Bluestalking Reader will soon be onto this one and I'm holding my breath to hear what she thinks.To me it was a great read laden with what I suspect is very accurate 1890's Chicago detail, but what will our intrepid Windy City resident feel?
I'm sure she'll tell us soon but meanwhile congratulations to William and Helen on such an excellent collaboration because I think we'd be hard-pushed to write a joint shopping list here without a bit of a conflagration, so 630 pages is no mean feat.
You can read William Horwood's blog here for more details.