A lively, evocative reinvigoration of Boston’s Gilded Age and the psychopathic young stalker who threatened public safety.
Previously fascinated by the literary constructs of Mary Shelley, Montillo (The Lady and Her Monsters, 2013, etc.) explores a dark period in 19th-century Boston when a notorious serial torturer attacked young boys. At the center of the author’s historical tapestry is Jesse Pomeroy, whose relentlessly abusive childhood may have inspired the many beating and torturing rages against youth in the Boston area in the 1870s when he was 14 years old. He became known as both the “Red Devil” and one of America’s youngest serial killers. With cinematic narration, Montillo retraces Pomeroy’s sadistic crime spree involving the vicious persecution of boys along the Chelsea, Massachusetts, waterfront and, later, in South Boston, after his mother relocated the family. Once his conviction and sentencing to reform school was completed, however, Pomeroy was released into his mother’s custody only to resume his crimes with murderous intensity. The author shares these bloody details with grisly accuracy through the deft interpretation of journals, newspaper articles, books and Pomeroy’s own autobiography. Though this morbid decade in Boston’s history could stand on its own, Montillo effectively incorporates divergent narrative threads profiling the lives of novelist Herman Melville and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Melville was fascinated by Pomeroy’s crimes and enlisted Holmes to explore the nature of madness and the psychological unraveling of Pomeroy who, in 1875, as the area still recovered from the Great Boston Fire, was handed a death sentence by hanging (after much official deliberation, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment). Montillo creatively revives this tarnished New England era with the meticulous focus of a seasoned archivist and the graphic descriptive powers of a historical novelist.
A chillingly drawn, expertly researched slice of grim Boston history.