Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Beast of Chicago: The Murderous Career of H.H. Holmes (2003)

     I would imagine that the average reader probably wants something different from an examination into the serial killer known as H.H. Holmes. I want more of an understanding of the motivations of the subject, and I want the details of the killings – because those inform the picture as well as anything else.  Being partially educated, I knew I probably wasn't going to get much in regards to the psychology of Holmes from a graphic novel, but that didn't mean there wouldn't be any appeal for me.
     Rick Geary's The Beast of Chicago: The Murderous Career of H.H. Holmes (2003) is noted on FEARnet.com as one of the five graphic novels one needs to read (provided one has already read The Walking Dead).  I definitely would not rank it that high, but I have not read any of their suggestions from that list, save the subject of this post.  It has some merit, but almost none of that seems tied to it being a graphic novel.
Geary's take on the second floor of the Castle
     In essence, Geary manages to turn what would be a somewhat dry four page paper on Holmes' travels, schemes, and possible actions – that part needed to be better researched – into a 70+ page collection of illustrated panels which add little to his text.  This is not a knock of Geary's skill; he is quite good.  It is just that there is so little action implied in his drawings that the illustrations do little to pace the narrative.  None of the horror of Holmes' acts carries into the artwork, but Geary does have a flair for conveying a sense of the late 19th Century.  Where the illustrations work best is in showcasing the look and layout of Holmes' Murder Castle, but I cannot say that these are more informative that the existent information already available.
Geary's presentation of the Castle's exterior
     Geary essentially gives a bare bones account of Holmes, noting his rise from being little Herman Webster Mudgett in New Hampshire to traveling across the country – and into Ontario, Canada – in an effort to perpetrate a fraud (and kill some people along the way).  There is no dramatic license in the narrative.  Indeed, Geary seems to go out of his way to make sure that he is well within the established facts – as far as he researched them – of the case.  Unfortunately, this leads to there being scant few panels where Geary can impart more than a stoic face, a street scene, or architecture.
More realistic depiction of the Murder Castle
     As a primer on Holmes, I think this book serves a purpose.  But I don't know if it does a better job than looking him up on Wikipedia (where this very graphic novel serves to inform the entry).  It takes surprisingly little time to read, which makes it a fine selection to check out from the library.  I just can't recommend it as a purchase, nor can I say it serves to better understand psychopathy or serial killing in general.  At the same time, it doesn't celebrate Holmes or killing, so it is better than some of the other titles in the same genre.

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting post, I'm starting to get more into different kind of books thanks to your blog :), you do good reviews, if I'll see this I'll definitely skim through this, even if it's not worth a buy.