The Devil’s City
By Sara Tantlinger and Matt Corley
Sara Tantlinger and Matt Corley bring us into a mid-19th century Chicago. Our main character is America’s first serial killer – H.H. Holmes. Although, we see the city through the eyes of five point-of-view characters that ultimately become Holme’s victims. Each POV character comes from a different walk of life, ranging from a very strong woman that puts on unbelievable shows which display her strength, to a man that traveled from a land far far away.
The atmosphere comes off like it was designed by Holmes himself – eerie and slightly off by a few degrees. It’s almost like the authors made that a metaphor for his architectural enigma of a hotel, where it’s almost dream-like. There’s a façade to what the surface layers have to offer. An evil under-layer of horror and torment.
Holmes is a great character to explore. Even if you don’t know much about him, chances are you’ve witnessed art – in various formats – that has been heavily influenced by him. So before this book was even written, they were looking at a challenge to present something different.
The Devil’s City had moments of unique twists. I say moments because the book, the chapters, and scenes are all short. I’m not opposed to anything short, or long, a story is whatever its length is supposed to be, however, the bursts of chapters come as a disservice in this case. I didn’t get to know each POV character well enough to really care about them. Sure you can empathize for them, but it was more like a meet and greet, where I get to know a few things someone likes, and then they’re gone.
How they die is interesting, but ultimately the stories felt rushed. There was no buildup and I wanted to feel their pain. To feel their terror. We were shown a lot of really interesting things outside of Holmes’ hotel, as well as within the hotel – my personal favorite room within the hotel being the pharmacy – but I never felt the characters jump out of the page at me.
Another thing that did not work for me was in two instances, there were supernatural elements about our killer that were mentioned in a jarring manner. There was no foreshadowing in any way, which is why they were so jarring for me. They were really interesting sides to Holmes that I wish were explored further, but they were merely used as a tool to achieve an act of mending Holmes’ problems. The last thing that did not work for me was the ending. It didn’t fill my tummy. I was still hungry. It felt like I got a small tasty appetizer with a need for an entrée. Something to sink my teeth into.
Tantlinger and Corley are both clearly good writers. It’s evident in this story. I know this book is illustrated, I’ve seen those illustrations after I read this. They are truly beautiful pieces of art. There are also maps for the different floors of the hotel, which made a great visual to see where events from the stories took place. Also something worth noting, this novella is associated with a role-playing board game, Whispers In The Dark. I’m curious if this would have been more satisfying if I had played the game.
Even though this story didn’t work for me, I would not discourage anyone from reading it. Holmes’ is an interesting person, and for anyone that’s a fan of him and wants another story about him, this could be another great book to add to your collection.
Review by Patrick R. McDonough
I received an e-copy of this book for review consideration.