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Publisher's Summary

A real-life thriller in the vein of The Devil in the White City, Kate Winkler Dawson's debut, Death in the Air, is a gripping, historical narrative of a serial killer, an environmental disaster, and an iconic city struggling to regain its footing.

In winter 1952, London automobiles and thousands of coal-burning hearths belched particulate matter into the air. But the smog that descended on December fifth of 1952 was different; it was a type that held the city hostage for five long days. Mass transit ground to a halt, criminals roamed the streets, and 12,000 people died. That same month, there was another killer at large in London: John Reginald Christie, who murdered at least six women. In a braided narrative that draws on extensive interviews, never-before-published material, and archival research, Dawson captivatingly recounts the intersecting stories of the these two killers and their longstanding impact on modern history.

©2017 Kate Winkler Dawson (P)2017 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"What's great about Death in the Air is not just its stunning premise, but also its deep reach into the life of London in the mid-twentieth century. It's a wonderful read. Welcome to the metaphysics of fog." (S. C. Gwynne, New York Times best-selling author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell)
"Journalist Dawson writes the parallel, shocking histories of the suffocating smog that menaced London, ultimately killing thousands, in December 1952, and a serial killer's salacious murders and trial the following year. Focusing on the powerful press' response to both killers and offering food for thought on what constitutes crime, responsibility, and progress, Dawson delves into heated parliamentary debates between Churchill's Conservative cabinet and Laborite agitators; first-person accounts from doctors, policemen, and other smog survivors; court records; and Christie's own, jaw-dropping account of his murders." ( Booklist)

What listeners say about Death in the Air

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting

This book is an interwoven true story of a serial killer and an airborne killer emerging at about the same time in London. The narrator was excellent and made a difference to what was already an eloquent narrative. Recommended, especially if you enjoyed Devil in the white City.

10 people found this helpful

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Great combination of history & true crime

This is a great intermingling of stories about a serial killer I didn't know anything about & an important historical event most Americans haven't studied.

If you like true crime or British history, especially the rebuilding years right after the WWII, you'd love this great intertwined tale. The authentic narrator really brings smoggy London to life!

Note that Winston Churchill & The Royal Family are supporting players in this story. Parliament takes a starring role along with Post-war London. Don't miss Margaret Thatcher's brief cameo!

7 people found this helpful

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Disappointing

After hearing the author talk about this book, I immediately downloaded it on audible. It seems to be the perfect blend of history, mystery, and science. I forced myself to complete it. Though the content was interesting, the presentation was repetitive, disjointed, and boring. The narrators drab voice made listening to the book more a task than a pleasure. I often found myself dozing, daydreaming, and missing interesting facts. I am unsure how the book would be rated if I read the written text, but I would not recommend the audible version.

6 people found this helpful

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Not What I Expected

To put it simply, too much fog, too little true crime. More an examination (and a good one) of the dangers and causes of killer fog, with only a subplot about a killer whose crimes really had nothing to do with the fog.

3 people found this helpful

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Interesting and excellent book

Excellent true story about the strangling of thousands of people from air pollution and a serial killer in the 1940s and 1950s in the UK. Kate Winkler Dawson weaves these two stories that occurred at the same time together well. She humanizes the victims and pays extra attention to the details of their lives in a way that makes the reader/listener care about them. Graeme Malcom is a gem to listen to and having a Brit narrate a British story was an important choice. It was also interesting to see the parallels of the British government debating the cause of the London Smog and minimizing the effect of it for years with current government officials minimizing similar atrocities. The book is well worth a read or listen as you learn about John Reginald Christie and the Great London Smog.

3 people found this helpful

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fascinating story, narrator is meh

loved the storytelling, Dawson is very gifted. the inclusion of the young girls story had me on edge until the villain was arrested--i spent much of the book on tender hooks waiting for her to become one of the victims of the killer and not just the fog. highly recommend, despite the narrator being a bit dull/monotone-y sounding at times.

1 person found this helpful

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Neither truly disappointing nor what I had hoped for

I was definitely hoping for a more Erik Larson style story, but this historical account of serial murder and the conditions of the time fell a little flat. I feel the narration led to that in part as his very cadenced style got to be grating at times.

1 person found this helpful

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New information for this well seasoned ex-pat!

I really thought that that I knew a good amount of my old country's history but 'Death In The Air' shared quite a few surprises I can tell you. I must admit that I have always been intrigued with the Timothy Evans/John Christie case ever since I was a young girl. I know that is pretty weird however I remember watching the Attenborough movie 10 Rillington Place (and the nightmares that followed) during my teen years. I always became so incensed with regards to Evan's execution as I felt that it was so unjust. He did not receive a fair trial. Poor guy had to take everything 'on faith' as he could neither read or write so from the start he was at a distinct disadvantage. Kate Winkler Dawson (KWD) has done so much research that I have learned so much more about the case that I was totally riveted to this book.

With regards to the horrendous fog. This crises was completely new to me. I lived in Birmingham right near a metal smelting plant so all I can say is 'join the club'! However seriously I had no idea that the good quality coal was being sold abroad and that the 'nutty slack' which I remember really well was being fobbed off on us, the British people who put those politicians in office. Those same politicians who were living in their lovely detached houses out in suburbia. Homes heated with electricity.

I remember how hard it was to get this stuff to burn. It always felt damp and once you did get it started someone had to stay close to it as it would spark like crazy. Would often set your rug on fire. Huge puffs of smoke would fill the room. You would put your bed sheets out on the washing line to dry. When you went to bring them in they would be spotty and grey. I remember my Nan saying that it was due to the Nutty slack.

I would have given this book five stars all the way but felt that it got pulled down in parts with stats and other minutia where I found myself 'drifting off' a little.

Graeme Malcolm gives a stellar performance. When he quotes Christie it was quite eerie at times.

Enjoyed this book very much. Highly recommend.

3 people found this helpful

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A little heavy on the history for me

Although the content was very interesting, the narrator’s voice combined with the heavy history content made this more like a sleep story for me. I probably would have enjoyed it more had I read it in print.

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Bad Writing / Great Narration

Interesting topics told in a not interesting way. The writer just threw facts together willy-nilly and didn't even bother to tie the two stories together. The only reason I was able to finish was the fact that I was listening to it on my commute to and from work. There's no way I would be able to sit down and actually read this mess. The narrator was phenomenal.

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  • Steven P.
  • 04-19-21

A very cleverly written book. Thoroughly recommended!

My interest in the Christie case started in the early 60’s when my mother took me as a little boy to visit Madame Tussaud’s. The tableau of him seen through the bars in the door of the condemned cell at Pentonville Prison, is a vivid image and one I can still recall very clearly today. I had heard of the London Smog of 1952 but had no real conception of its devastating effect. To weave the tale of the infamous serial killer with that of the silent deadly fog is in my opinion, nothing short of brilliant. The picture that the narrative paints of life in post war London is tangibly atmospheric. Sadly, the competence of Government in reaction to a crisis was no better at the time than it is now. A most worthwhile listen and one I cannot recommend highly enough. Thanks Audible.

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  • Mark Pullen
  • 11-19-20

interesting

Good old fashioned British history.... why oh why are there American words in it

DIAPERS
SIDEWALK
PURSE
NYLONS

plus others, these are not English words an english person would use ; I dont know why this irritates me but it does...

British history... pease you British words

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  • Caroline
  • 09-11-19

interesting linking of 2 events

This book explains the causes and political apathy about the 1952 smog which killed thousands of people and attempts to force the Government to act to protect people from its effects and the murders committed by John Christie at about the same time. Its message is about why people focused on the latter which was far less deadly than the former which is a good question. I didn't know much about the smog so that was interesting. One thing which was quite jarring, though, was the American terminology e.g. diapers, fall etc which sounded really out of place in this book.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anne Arnold
  • 10-24-18

A tale of two cities

An enthralling story that covers two intertwining threads. Cleverly written and shows how even then that governments lie.

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  • Blue Mercedes
  • 08-10-21

A fascinating true story - with language problems

Even though I was a child at the time, I well remember both of this book's topics - particularly as I lived just one street away from Rillington Place. The story brought back some vivid memories and I found the intertwining of the two subjects - the smog and the serial killer - to be expertly done, and very well narrated. There was one thing, however, that irritated me. The story could not have been more British - and certainly not more 'Londonish' - but the author let herself down by apparently pandering to an American audience by using the terms: 'flashlight' (for 'torch'), 'subway' (for 'the underground'), 'fall' (for 'autumn') and 'sidewalk' (for 'pavement'). Those are not British words in the context of this story, and they grated on me whenever I heard them. Having said that, however, the book was excellent.