Thursday, January 09, 2020

Death in the Air by Kate Winkler Dawson

First Line: The teenager carefully avoided broken shards of glass, barely held together by cracked window frames, as the mist dampened her hair.

London is almost synonymous with fog, but the fog/smog that held one of the world's great cities hostage for five long days was something completely different. Mass transit came to a screeching halt, some criminals went on breaking-and-entering sprees, and 12,000 people died. But the deadly fog wasn't the only killer on the loose. So was a nondescript little man named John Reginald Christie who killed at least six women.

Parts of Kate Winkler Dawson's Death in the Air reads like the best fiction. People trying to navigate the streets when visibility was down to one yard. Buses and automobiles not being able to move. People dying because they can't get to the hospital, and doctors are swamped with house calls and can't get to their patients in a timely manner. And then there's John Reginald Christie, a quiet little man most people wouldn't look at twice, who was on a killing spree of his own.

Dawson's research is fantastic, both in explaining the physical causes of the deadly smog and in sharing survivors' (often heartbreaking) stories. Of course, there was a government coverup, but once the facts started coming out, it's easy to see how serial killer John Reginald Christie has been overshadowed by this horrendous pollution-- pollution that killed 12,000 people. The only bright side to the smog was the clean air legislation that began to be implemented around the world.

Death in the Air is an often spellbinding narrative about a dark time in history, but it does bog down in the details from time to time. In fact, I think the book would have been stronger if the author had left out Christie altogether. I'd heard about the smog many times, but now I really appreciate knowing exactly what happened. If you're interested in this period of time, give it a read. It's good.

Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Winkler Dawson
ISBN: 9780316506861
Hachette Books © 2017
Hardcover, 352 pages

Non-Fiction, Standalone
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.


  1. I’ve never heard of this and I’m fascinated, must see if my library has a copy. Thank you!

  2. This sounds really informative, Cathy. I always respect an author who 'does the homework,' so that a story is informed. At the same time, you're right that it's important to keep the story flowing, so it can't be 'information overload.' I'm glad this one strikes a balance.

    1. For the most part, it does, and I learned a lot.

  3. I've read about the great fog in fiction, but this combination with a serial killer nonfiction sounds fascinating! Thanks for this one!


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