The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 has sparked some wonderful fiction, and Dark Hearts of Chicago is no exception. After reading the great review of this book over at dovegreyreader I knew I was in for a treat, but I didn't realize how many late nights I'd spend enthralled with this book. I have dark circles directly related to Dark Hearts, but I wouldn't have it any other way. That's why makeup was invented, after all, to mask the effects of late night bookwormery.
The twin plots involving strong female characters drew me in immediately, and I know I already mentioned that early on in the read but I can now vouch for the fact the grip never lessened.
I think what I enjoyed best about the book was all the detail, showing the vast amount of research put into learning about the historical time period. Though the plot was compelling and carried me along, I couldn't help stopping to wonder at all the effort put into some of the little things, details contemporary to turn of the 19th century Chicago. The book was infused with major aspects of local history, including such important institutions as the Chicago stockyards. All the period detail added up to a very authentic portrait of early Chicago history. Having lived in the Chicago area for nearly 25 years now, I can say with certainty the background research must have been staggering.
The two main female characters are Emily Strauss, a cub reporter with an exceptional drive to prove herself in a primarily male world, and Anna Zemeckis, the daughter of a Latvian immigrant who goes missing in the sordid Chicago underworld. Both characters are fully realized and fascinating, not to mention all the peripheral characters in the book that add color and depth to the story. Characterization is a very strong suit in Dark Hearts.
My favorite single aspect of the book would probably be the sections devoted to the insane asylum. I have a particular fascination with asylums (make of that what you will) and the detail in that part alone was just magnificent. How fascinating, and occasionally horrifying, to know the procedures employed on the insane in that era. That added such a level of interest to the book as a whole, and the plot very cleverly hinged on time spent in the asylum.
There's a danger here in giving too much away about the very clever plot, but I'll just say this is a magnificent read. With the weather warming this would be a great book to have with you on a hammock, a glass of lemonade at your side. But I defy you to put the book down, so I recommend you have several hours carved out of your schedule before you pick it up. And I have the dark circles to attest to that.
** NOTE: If you're a blog reviewer and would like to read this book for review, let me know. I'd love to see this one get a wider audience and I'm willing to send you my copy if you'll agree to review it and pass the word along.