This pacy and very readable factual tome recounts the stories of two extraordinary men: an architect and a serial killer. The first, Daniel Burnham, oversaw the design and construction of Chicago's White City, which hosted the World's Fair of 1893. Burnham's achievement was quite incredible – in 18 months he created an entire city, attracting 27.5 million visitors in six months and introducing the world to the Ferris wheel and Shredded Wheat. And, despite the destruction of the buildings after the fair, Burnham's influence on the architecture of the emerging world power was a major one. The fair, however, hid a dark secret: America's first serial killer HH Holmes was preying on scores of young women. Holmes built a macabre hotel, called the World's Fair Hotel, to commit his crimes. The two storylines run in parallel throughout the book, written by Time journalist Erik Larson. Both are compelling, but for very different reasons.
In the winter of 1880, architect John Stannard arrives in an isolated English village to oversee the restoration of its historic church. Dealing with truculent labourers and a vicar-client who never quite manages to leave the pulpit, Stannard is sorely tested in the role of gentleman-architect in a strictly hierarchical society. Then temptation is thrown in his path in the form of Ann Rosewell, a woman who has obviously never seen the TV costume dramas that give us our idea of modest Victorian maidenhood. As the story darkens, it turns out that the work in progress isn't the church but the architect himself, and the crumbling foundations aren't the ones holding up the walls. An original modern novel that follows the dark outlines of a medieval morality play. Read it in bright sunlight, or you'll want to turn down the next church commission.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £12.99
A tour of a different side of Manhattan: where the skyscrapers are built by graft, the Mafia doles out contracts to favoured subcontractors, and material suppliers bankroll the extra-curricular activities of corrupt Teamster bosses. Jimmy Dolan thought he had left it all behind when he gave up shovelling concrete to study for a degree and then enter the Spin City world as a senior aide to the New York mayor. But when a collision between the two worlds loses him his job, Dolan returns to the shady side of Manhattan and a fight to the finish with Teamsters godfather Frankie Keefe. Irish-American author Thomas Kelly used to be on the tools himself, and the site sections read with a rare authenticity. But rather too many slices of life – from Dolan's NYPD ex-girlfriend to his slacker best mate, assorted hoodlums and even the FBI – make the novel rather indigestible at times.
*browserThe Sea House
Post-war émigré architect Klaus Lehmann writes the story of his life in letters to his beloved wife Elsa. Several decades later, his contemporary biographer Lily finds that rebuilding their story puts her own life with architect Nick into clearer context.
Patrick Parker’s Progress
Our hero is trained for architectural greatness by a pushy mother who sees blitzed Coventry as the empty stage her son will shine on. Not surprisingly, adult Patrick is puffed with self-importance – and Cheek’s comic novel delights in deflating him.
The Cloud Sketcher
Harper Collins £6.99
Finnish architect Esko Vaananen’s career takes him from his flourishing Helsinki practice to sky-scraping competition success in 1920s New York. The link is Russian aristocrat Katerina, who makes this saga an unusual romantic-architectural construction.