Inferno on Fifth by Marlie Wasserman: 4****

Historical Crime Fiction author Marlie Parker Wasserman has focused on one the last major mass tragedies of the 19th Century in her new book, Inferno on Fifth. Wasserman casts her considerable talents on this St. Patrick’s Day fire at the Windsor Hotel in New York City in 1899; The research in compiling this book is impeccable and the book is filled with Historical figures who either stayed at the Windsor, were associated with the Windsor or helped into the investigation into the cause of the fire which remains unsolved 125 later. This massive blaze that happened as the St. Patrick’s Day parade neared the building, killed over 85 people, of which 41 were never identified. It was a massive conflagration that seemed to come from out of nowhere, and Wasserman through her characters provides us possible reasons for the fire (all of which were considered by the authorities at one time). Was it a ring of thieves aided by the hotel maids, was it started by a cigar ash that caused a dining room curtain to burst into flames.

Anarchists who were trying to kidnap President McKinley’s brother? Maybe it started in the basement while the workers were out watching the parade or an electric iron that was never properly turned off, or that it was it just an old flammable building that complied with the 1873 building code that was outdated? A myriad of characters are in this book which gives us the multiple perspectives on each individuals points of view. How newspaper reports were contradictory, how eyewitnesses and even survivors of the fire were not really sure what happened as memories blurred and peoples actions were questioned. One of the most interesting portions of the book dealt with fire ropes which were really one of the few ways to escape the upper floors.
The book opens with a description of the early minutes of the fire, and it reads almost like what happened on 9/11 at the Twin Towers. I personally enjoyed all the different points of view and reminds me of CNN or FNC coverage of a major event. A fast and interesting read which solidifies Wasserman’s place at the top of Historical Crime Fiction authors!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top