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wilderness of ruin book coverReviewed by Jax Kep

The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer by Roseanne Montillo has an interesting premise on the surface: fourteen-year-old Jesse Pomeroy is abusing children in Boston right after the Civil War. While the search is on for him, Boston burns in a horrible fire. It seemed as though this book would be similar to The Devil in White City, but unfortunately this disjointed story simply cannot live up to that classic nonfiction.

Part of the problem is the odd title: there is a lot going on! Jesse’s story is interesting because he was so young and disturbed, but he had absolutely nothing to do with the Great Fire, nor was he in the vicinity while it raged on. The police detective who was looking for him was not the person investigating the fire. The fire chief had nothing to do with the search for Jesse. There is no overlap at all! I don’t know why the story about the fire (really more of a brief aside chapter) was even included, if not to beef up the book, which was already a little thin just on Jesse’s story. There was also a lot about Herman Melville, his life and writings, that didn’t fit in at all. It is not even clear if Melville was in Boston during the time of Jesse or the fire. So this book was basically three completely separate stories that Montillo attempted to cram together into a book, but they lacked a unifying theme or geographical timeline.

Jesse’s crimes are creepy and unsettling, and they are almost too gruesome to be true. It is almost hard to believe that a fourteen-year-old could be so sadistic. His time in jail was actually pretty interesting with all his escape attempts, and it was incredible that the jail system back then was so flawed that he was in solitary confinement for as long as he was!

Obviously Montillo thoroughly researched this story, however it was all over the place, and unfortunately couldn’t pull itself together by the end, resulting in a disjointed mess.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.