“One of the best historical novels of the year.”
—Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail
Chicago, 1893. The crackle of electricity’s first sparks, the mechanical whirl of the Ferris Wheel, the sounds of mischievous laughter on the Midway and the crystal tinkling within the austere walls of the White City–the century’s last great World’s Fair has come to town.
But darkness lurks beneath the flourishing facade. 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 their own agenda, but time is running out and it is not clear if young Billy has been abducted by America’s first serial killer or by a wayward hooligan hiding secrets of his own. As she races against time, Dr. Handley fights to maintain her sanity, but the line between captor and quarry blurs, and like any temptress, 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–and the dark side that was never far from its core.
- “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 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 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
Sin, fire, and murder run rampant in Michod’s Chicago
The wind pushes through Alec Michod’s first novel, “distressing the livestock and summoning up the soil,” setting in motion a breathtaking chase for a serial killer with a filleting knife (based on the real-life H.H. Holmes) at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Here is Chicago at its fattest moment. The rich eat reindeer fricassee, while the poor have vegetables that look like twigs. Angry meatpackers punch each other into pulp as Michod dismantles the American Money Dream and the White City becomes the “smoldering city,” with a gallows set up in front of the Art Institute (of all places!). He creates such mysterious character–like the one with mahogany hair and the mortician whose face is half paralyzed from a run-in with a grizzly–as well as an ever present queasiness, as evil precedes and follows wonder. The hunters and the hunted fly about in a breathless chase, past the Electricity Building, the chocolate Venus, and the 11-ton cheese, only to come upon the victims–the only still entities in the book–near the Movable Sidewalk and the Transportation Building. Many of the characters seem almost too full of human failings. The wide-eyed boys are lost, muddy, disoriented; the adults, either mad with grief or partaking of Pernod or opium. Dr. Elizabeth Handley, the fearless, Harvard-educated forensic psychologist–who should be an inspiration for us all with her “free-associative intuition” and a mind “capable of high-level mathematics and bawdy barroom asides–never eats, does not get there on time, then does, yet remains tongue-tied as the city burns orange with fire. –Toni Schlesinger, The Village Voice
Michod’s fictional sleuth … Elizabeth Handley … profiles the killer and chases him through Chicago’s sewers in a hair-raising climax. Splendid plotting and dramatic use of setting propels this book … This is a young writer to watch. — Henry Kisor, The Sun-Times
Here are all the different covers, starting with the two they used (hardcover, paperback). I, personally, prefer the last one.
Now read extracts.
& an interview with the author.
& an essay about the Chicago World’s Fair.
Finally, two revised chapters, which were not included in the paperback edition.