The Devil in the White City By Erik Larson Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapter 9 - Vanishing Point

Summary

Ned Conner, his wife Julia, and daughter Pearl move into Holmes's building so that Ned can run the jewelry counter in Holmes's pharmacy. Shortly after, Ned's sister Gertie moves into the building as well. Although Ned likes Holmes, he soon grows envious of the attention Holmes gives his wife and sister. He also finds Holmes a bit odd, especially after he asks Ned to help him soundproof-test his vault, but Ned never suspects anything of Holmes. At this point, neither do the Chicago police as Chicago is described in depth at the end of the chapter as the city where people just disappear.

Analysis

This brief chapter serves two purposes. For one, Holmes's long history of undetected deeds appears in a larger context within a city where people just vanish. Although the reader suspects that Holmes has killed a few people by now, Larson has not yet said directly that Holmes has murdered anyone. However, Chapter 9 implies that Holmes has killed several people by noting Chicago's notoriety for disappearances.

Secondly, the final lines of this chapter are certainly significant. As the chapter closes, Larson compares Chicago to the Union Stockyards by writing that neither wastes anything. This double entendre foreshadows a method that Holmes uses later in the story to dispose of the bodies of his victims: Holmes makes use of all the body parts. Ironically, Chicago, the Union Stockyards, and Holmes "waste" many lives during this time.

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