Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City (Hardcover)

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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.

London was still recovering from the devastation of World War II when another disaster hit: for five long days in December 1952, a killer smog held the city firmly in its grip and refused to let go. Day became night, mass transit ground to a halt, criminals roamed the streets, and some 12,000 people died from the poisonous air. But in the chaotic aftermath, another killer was stalking the streets, using the fog as a cloak for his crimes.

All across London, women were going missing--poor women, forgotten women. Their disappearances caused little alarm, but each of them had one thing in common: they had the misfortune of meeting a quiet, unassuming man, John Reginald Christie, who invited them back to his decrepit Notting Hill flat during that dark winter. They never left.

The eventual arrest of the "Beast of Rillington Place" caused a media frenzy: were there more bodies buried in the walls, under the floorboards, in the back garden of this house of horrors? Was it the fog that had caused Christie to suddenly snap? And what role had he played in the notorious double murder that had happened in that same apartment building not three years before--a murder for which another, possibly innocent, man was sent to the gallows?

The Great Smog of 1952 remains the deadliest air pollution disaster in world history, and John Reginald Christie is still one of the most unfathomable serial killers of modern times. Journalist Kate Winkler Dawson braids these strands together into a taut, compulsively readable true crime thriller about a man who changed the fate of the death penalty in the UK, and an environmental catastrophe with implications that still echo today.

About the Author


Kate Winkler Dawson is a seasoned documentary producer, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, WCBS News and ABC News Radio, Fox News Channel, United Press International, PBS NewsHour, and Nightline. She teaches journalism at The University of Texas at Austin.

Praise For…


"Death in the Air by Kate Winkler Dawson is a
fascinating, beautifully researched, and compulsively readable book, which
tells the entwined stories of the Great London Smog of 1952 and a serial
killer, John Reginald Christie, who exploited the fog as a cloak for murder. This
is a portrait of London at one of its darkest and most desperate times. Not
since The Devil in the White City has a book told such a
harrowing tale."—Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Monster of Florence and The Lost City of the Monkey God

"How
have we forgotten this incredible story? A deadly environmental disaster visited
upon modern London, a serial killer stalking women at its zenith--this is a tale
dying to be told. Death in the Air is a stunning debut by a writer you will
be hearing about for years to come. It's just a great book.''—Bryan Burrough, New York Times bestselling author of Public Enemies and Barbarians at the Gate

"A killer fog. A
killer loose amidst it. Dawson does what skilled storytellers do: drops you in
a London peopled by finely etched characters and keeps you turning pages
through the twist and turns of a harrowing case."—Joe Drape, New York Times bestselling author of American Pharoah and Our Boys

"A London
peasouper hangs over the city as a serial killer stalks its streets! This is a
true tale of criminal violence against the backdrop of one of the worst
environmental disasters of all time, one that led to the death of 12,000
people. It is a narrative that has relevance to the world's pollution problems
of today and is also an engrossing read."—Christine L. Corton, author of London Fog: The Biography

"I was seven,
and living in London, when these two dreadful and murderous events uncoiled,
and I--asthmatic as a result--remember them still. It seems to
me that only an outsider, a non-Londoner, could possibly bring them so vividly,
so excruciatingly and so unflinchingly back to life. Kate Winkler Dawson has
done the history of my city a great service, and she is to be commended for
telling a terrible tale memorably and brilliantly."—Simon Winchester, New York Times bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman

"Dawson deftly weaves the tales together in an
engrossing narrative that reads like a thriller.... readers will remain
hooked on this compelling story and will eagerly await Dawson's next book."—Kirkus

"A deranged maniac plays
Fleet Street's reporters like a fiddle at the same time that an industrial-age
climate disaster explodes into a full-blown humanitarian crisis. Richly
detailed and shrewdly told, Kate Winkler Dawson's Death in the Air is as suspenseful as it is chillingly relevant."—Robert Kolker, New York Times bestselling author of Lost Girls

"Just when you think true
crime can't get more interesting, here comes Kate Dawson with her imaginatively
conceived and meticulously researched tale about Reg Christie, the fastidious,
soft-voiced London clerk who embarks on a vicious killing spree in 1952 just as
a deadly fog descends on London. But Death in the Air is hardly another study of a depraved
serial killer. It's also a riveting history of London in the years after World
War II--a city beset by political cover ups and misguided police investigations.
Dawson's ability to weave together so many separate strands of one story is
simply magnificent."—Skip Hollandsworth, author of The Midnight Assassin: The Hunt for America's First Serial Killer

"Kate Winkler Dawson has a born storyteller's gift for
building suspense and momentum and a keen eye for telling details, and her
narrative poses a powerful moral question: who's the worse killer--a madman who strangles seven women and a baby, or
government officials whose staggering indifference allows thousands to die in
the great London smog of 1952? Dawson captures the whole sad mess in a
heartbreaking, page-turning account that almost literally grips you by the
throat as the government, the police, the press, and the medical profession all
fail in their fundamental duty to preserve and protect the city's most
vulnerable residents."—Glenn Frankel, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of High Noon and The Searchers

"Dawson has
reached deep into the past and pulled forth a spellbinding, darkly gothic tale
of two serial killers--only one of which was human. Death in the Air surprised me, entranced me,
and changed the way I see one of the most urgent issues facing the world
today."—Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body

"This dark and
disturbing tale of murder, deception, and killer smog in 1952 London serves as
a vivid warning about what can happen when we destroy the environment, systems
break down, and, well, a couped up, dormant serial killer feels the need to act
out his twisted fantasies--again."—Dean King, bestselling author of Skeletons on the Zahara and The Feud

"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 bestselling author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell

"Evocative . . .
vividly atmospheric . . . The narratives add up to a grim, Dickensian portrait
of postwar London: broke, grimy, dejected, deranged around the edges, and
gasping for breath."—Publishers Weekly

"Tendrils of sickening fog creep everywhere in this book,
and terror lurks in the shadows. Dawson skillfully weaves these two events into
a substantial narrative that will appeal to all types of readers."—Library Journal (starred review)


"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

"Kate Winkler Dawson's Death in the Air: The True Story of a
Serial Killer, The Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City
is a
stellar examination of a turbulent time in the city's history. . . . Dawson's
background in documentaries and journalism makes this journey more than just a
retelling of the facts. She tracked down people who lived it, and now readers
will vividly experience that period as well."— Associated Press

"Deeply researched and densely atmospheric."—New York Times Book Review


"A gripping read that
illuminates two dark crimes: The political scandal of London's Great Smog of
1952, which killed an estimated 12,000 people; and the frightening deeds of a
human killer both demented and mundane."—Dallas Morning News

"For five days in December of that year, London was blanketed by a yellow
toxic vapor that smothered its inhabitants. Journalist Kate Winkler Dawson has
written an intriguing book about this silent disaster, which was borne out of a
perfect storm of freak weather patterns and environmental ignorance. . . . The
lessons for the present, Dawson suggests, are as clear as the air in front of
our eyes."—Maureen Corrigan, "Fresh Air"

"What's scarier: A murderous madman
(now known to be John Reginald Christie) or an environmental disaster?"— Los Angeles Times

"Death
in the Air
is an enlightening look at two lesser known but important events
in British history, for both had far-reaching consequences."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"In 1952, post-World War II London was battling more
than reconstruction, and Kate Winkler Dawson's Death in the Air: The True
Story of a Serial Killer, The Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City

is a stellar examination of a turbulent time in the city's history. . . .
Dawson's background in documentaries and journalism makes this journey more
than just a retelling of the facts. She tracked down people who lived it, and
now readers will vividly experience that period as well."—Associated Press

"In her debut book Death in the Air, University
of Texas journalism lecturer and Austin native Kate Winkler Dawson weaves
together two terrifying events: the Great Smog that settled over London for
five days in 1952 and the gruesome discovery that a serial killer, John
Reginald Christie, had been living coincidentally in the city at the same time.
Dawson spent two years researching the book, delving into everything from
autopsy reports and trial transcripts to eyewitness accounts by people who
survived the fog."—Austin Monthly

"Ms. Dawson, a journalist and
documentary producer, is an assiduous researcher...her portraits of the ordinary
people confronted by the depredations of the fog and Christie are moving.
Ms. Dawson cogently argues that the Conservative
government's response to the crisis was shameful: It did everything it could,
seemingly, to cover up the extent of the catastrophe and avoid addressing the
emergency."—Wall Street Journal


Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780316506861
ISBN-10: 0316506869
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication Date: October 17th, 2017
Pages: 352
Language: English