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This is a book about the invention of wireless telegraphy. As if he knew this wasn’t the sexiest of topics, author Erik Larson includes a murder mystery alongside it, creating a fun little two-for-the-price-of-one non-fiction treat. He lures you in with relationship drama and then works in the science. So sneaky! And once the two distinct stories come together, so delicious.

I can see how some readers would be less than enthused about the more technical details of Marconi’s science experiments, but I live with an engineer, so I have developed a pretty high tolerance for tech speak. I actually find it relaxing to let unfamiliar phrases and concepts drift past--it’s not like I’m expected to chime in with meaningful feedback or opinions. I just nod encouragingly from time to time and let it all wash over me. So yeah, the experience of listening to this audio book was, for me, both familiar and comfortable.

And the story of the demure, unassuming patent medicine salesman Crippen and his voluptuous, volatile wife is a fascinating one, more than enough to keep the engine humming. I didn’t entirely buy into Larson’s incredulity that a man perceived as so gentle could be capable of murder. I must be a cynic--of course the quiet, retiring guy was eventually going to snap! Still, the chase towards the end of the book is surprisingly suspenseful, considering by today’s standards it unfolded at a snail’s pace.

Larson is a great storyteller and is particularly good at sniffing out historical events that would make for accessible, addictive reading. This is the third book of his I’ve read, and I’ve enjoyed them all. I especially recommend The Devil in the White City--so good!

Find it at your library!

Some descriptions might lead you to believe this book is about a marriage between spies, but really it's about a lifelong friendship shared by two very different women, Frances and Rosalie. The facts that Frances eventually becomes a spy, enters into a marriage arranged by the US government, and lives in the Galapagos Islands for months in primitive conditions are, surprisingly enough, not the most important plot points.

And it works out that Frances and Rosalie's friendship is the axis on which the novel revolves, because the dynamic between them is complicated and constantly changing. Frances is sheltered, naïve, dying to get out on her own and away from her controlling family. Rosalie is more worldly than she should be, with secrets that take Frances years to uncover. As they age, their bond remains steely despite the secrets they keep from each other.

Less interesting, sadly, is the relationship between Frances and her husband, Ainslie. They reminded me of Alma and Ambrose from Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, their fundamental incompatibility an insurmountable hurdle to intimacy. I can't put my finger on why, exactly, but I don't really care to read any more books featuring sexually frustrated perimenopausal women trying to make it with men who aren't into them that way. Oh right, because romance. I need it in my life, man.

With regards to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for the advance copy. On sale today, May 24!