Book Description

From Publishers Weekly Before airplanes, ocean liners routinely carried hundreds of passengers, and they were ideal tools for some nefarious plots. Larabee charts the life of Scottish-Canadian Alexander Keith, the fiend of the title who, in 1875, put an end to 'an age of innocence that could not yet conceive of malevolent designs to destroy thousands of unwitting human beings in a single horrific stroke.' A genteel con man, absentee husband and former aid to Confederate blockade runners, Keith engineered the explosion that killed 81 people on a German ship in what was reviled as one of the century's worst crimes. The book begins with an evocative account of the catastrophe, then backtracks to the beginning of Keith's life to decipher how he came to be a 'gentleman bomber.' Though parts of this story, especially its climax, have been well documented, Keith's aliases kept investigators from connecting all the dots. Larabee does so in this book, but while her historical sleuthing is extensive, she often embellishes on characters' supposed thoughts and feelings in a way that will frustrate readers wanting a more rigorous account. Also, in attempting to situate Keith in a historical context, she lingers on uneventful periods and minor players, such as the clock-makers Keith employed. While this history will appeal to those curious about the antecedents of modern terrorism, the book's structure and prose prevent it from being a cohesive, powerful narrative. Copyright ? Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Read more From Booklist But for the premature explosion of his time bomb--a sensational crime from 1875--Alexander Keith might have disappeared from history to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. Keith's career of swindles stretched from Halifax to St. Louis to the German port of Bremerhaven, site of the deadly explosion, reassembled by historian Larabee into an engrossing narrative. Keith's career prospered with the Civil War, when he posed in Halifax as a sympathizer and agent for Confederate blockade runners; in reality, he ripped them off. Sensing a decline in business as the South staggered toward defeat, Keith, after jilting his girlfriend, decamped for St. Louis in 1865, where one of his victims caught him. He and his new girl fled to Germany, where Keith used his affable ability to deceive in his final sociopathic scam--sinking an ocean liner with a bomb to claim insurance. Detailed but never dull, Larabee's account sets the investigative facts with the look of Keith's haunts and with his amoral bonhomie in a high--quality historical addition to the true-crime genre. Gilbert TaylorCopyright ? American Library Association. All rights reserved Read more See all Editorial Reviews