I am a self-professed true crime junkie. I drop everything when my TV is tuned to Investigation Discovery. Ann Rule and Harold Schechter are my superheroes. I am also a bit of a history geek; my undergrad degree is in the subject. When history and true crime intertwine in a single book, it is nerd heaven for this gal; and that’s the case with The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo.
The Wilderness of Ruin is a fascinating examination of the crimes and trial of Jesse Pomeroy, America’s youngest serial killer and the original bad seed. Pomeroy’s atrocious spree of violence took place in late 19th century Boston, a vulnerable town struggling to recover from a devastating fire. In 1872, at the tender age of twelve, Pomeroy abducted younger children for the purpose of torture. These acts of defilement resulted in a sixteen-month stint at the Lyman School for Boys. In 1874, mere months after his release, Jesse mutilated and murdered two children. Given his track record, it did not take Boston police long to pinpoint Pomeroy the culprit. The resulting trial sparked a national debate about mental health and capital punishment.
With sparkling prose and perspicuous description, Montillo has created a supremely readable piece of nonfiction. Montillo maintains the lurid elements of a typical true crime novel while expertly capturing the essence of Gilded Age America. She offers an in-depth view of the tumultuous era by punctuating Jesse Pomeroy’s tale with accounts from the likes of Boston fire chief, John Darnell; Herman Melville; and Oliver Wendell Holmes. The gruesomely detailed depictions of Pomeroy’s horrific activities are evidence of Montillo’s masterful research.
The Wilderness of Ruin will keep you engaged page after grisly page. It is a standout among historical true crime novels. I believe it should be required reading for all who loved Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.