On July 20, 1910, two suspects wanted for murder, boarded the SS Montrose in Antwerp. The ship was bound for Quebec City, Canada and three hours into the voyage, as Captain Henry George Kendall was making his rounds, he noticed two men by the life boats talking, presumably father and son. What caught his attention was the oddly intimate way the younger man was holding his father’s hand. He greeted the two men and wished them a good journey and returned to his cabin, convinced that these two were the two suspects he had read about earlier that morning in the continental edition of London’s Daily Mail. The news account was filled with new details regarding the North London Cellar Murder and the search that was being conducted for the two suspects; the doctor and his lover. The Captain instructed his crew to quickly remove all newspapers containing any information about the murders and decided that he would await instructions after communicating by wireless with the shipping company, Canadian Pacific Line, on how to apprehend the suspects.
The Canadian Pacific Line had been aggressively installing a new Marconi wireless on all its ocean going ships and although the SS Montrose was not particularly new and its decor so modest that it did not even merit a first class, it still had this latest apparatus in order to communicate. Invented by a compulsive, socially awkward, competitive, self taught genius named Guglielmo Marconi, the wireless sets were able to communicate from the ship to ship or ship to land at far greater distances that ever before, making it possible for shipping lines to have up to the minute confirmation of where their ships were, what trouble they might have encountered and whether or not they would make their schedules. So when Captain Kendall communicated with the head office of the shipping line he expected a response on how to handle the situation, what he did not expect was that within twenty-four hours of that communication, he and his ship would become the most talked about vessel afloat, even though no one on board the ship, except just a few key officers, knew anything about the Captain’s suspicions or that the world was following their voyage with bated breath!
Larson has done it again, by making history come alive! He shows us how not so long ago, wireless communication, which we take so much for granted now, was something truly amazing and sensational. Using this incident he shows how the intersection of invention and scientific breakthroughs change how we think and how we perceive the world. Although I found the portions concerning Marconi sometimes a wee bit tedious, the unfolding murder story more than made up for it keeping me turning the pages and wondering how it was all going to come together!
Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 out of 5 Stars)
Recommend this book to: Sharon, Marian, Lauren, Keith and Ken
Book Study Worthy? Yes
Read in ebook format.