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The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer

2.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,427 ratings  ·  313 reviews
In late nineteenth-century Boston, home to Herman Melville and Oliver Wendell Holmes, a serial killer preying on children is running loose in the city—a wilderness of ruin caused by the Great Fire of 1872—in this literary historical crime thriller reminiscent of The Devil in the White City.

In the early 1870s, local children begin disappearing from the working-class neighbo
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published March 17th 2015 by William Morrow (first published February 1st 2015)
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Start your review of The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer
Will Byrnes
He pointed out that “a strong lack of conscience” is one of the hallmarks for these individuals. “Their game is self-gratification at the other person’s experience,” Hare said. “Psychopathic killers, however, are not mad, according to accepted legal and psychiatric standards. The acts result not from a deranged mind but from a cold, calculating rationality combined with a chilly inability to treat others as thinking, feeling humans.” - the author quoting Robert Hare, author of a book on Psycho
Alisi ☆ wants to read too many books ☆
This is truly up there with the worst of the crime fiction. Off the top of my head I can only think of one book that I'd consider worse than this.

This book has very little to do with the actual serial killer himself and more to do with random tangents the author seems to find herself writing. There are large sections of the book that just dive into utter randomness and these can go on and on and on. Then, when the author decides, hey! this is a book on a serial killer. Perhaps we should rejoin h
I had high hopes for this one, but I have to follow so many others with my review... NOT GOOD! This really was more about Boston's shady history, than about the youngest serial killer in the US. I was more interested in his story, which we did get a little bit of, but not enough to warrant a whole book. I was bummed, as I enjoy books about serial killers. I know, I'm not right in the head! ...more
Dec 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: arcs, first-reads, 2-stars
In The Wilderness of Ruin A Tale of Madness Boston's Great Fire and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer, Roseanne Montillo strives to make connections between a catastrophic fire, a fourteen-year-old psychopath, and the tendency toward madness in Herman Melville's family. Unfortunately, the fire and Melville's hereditary mental weaknesses really have no connection with the sadistic actions of Jesse Pomeroy, and detract from what could otherwise be an interesting read.

Furthermore, by re
Nov 14, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
Story - 2.5/5
Narration - 4/5

Pretty good when the author was on-subject...

Too bad only about half of the book is on-subject.
In the latter part of the 19th century, the Boston area was plagued with attacks on young children. The assaults became worse and eventually ended with murders. Sadly, everyone knew who the culprit was, and this book examines how and why this all took place. There's a lot happening in this book, so let's look at each subject (Serial Killer, Fire, Insanity).

Jesse Pomeroy was a big boy for his age, but that didn't stop others from making fun of him and his white cataract eye. Locals knew him as a
Nicola Mansfield
Mar 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Like Montillo's first book, "The Lady and Her Monster", this book is not just simply about one thing. It is a history of a young criminal though two murders does not a serial killer make, named Jesse Pomeroy. Placing the reader in the late 1800s from approximately 1870 onwards, this is a social history of that time in Boston. Many topics are covered and even entire chapters are devoted to Oliver Wendall Holmes, Herman Melville, the history of mental illness to this point in time, the great Bosto
Dec 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Read an advance copy of this book. I came away feeling that there was much still to be known about Jesse Pomeroy. This may not be the fault of the author given the fact that he died over 80 years ago and that he seemed unwilling to divulge much whenever interviewed.

Despite the subtitle of the book "A Tale of Madness, Boston's Great Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer" in my opinion the fire had little to do with the story and the "hunt" an exaggeration ,as is the use of the
Jessica (booneybear)
I felt like this book had an identity crisis. There were three distinct stories throughout the book a) the boy killer, Jesse Pomeroy; b) the Great Fire of Boston in 1872 and c) the author Herman Melville. All well and good topics, however, put together in this book, they really didn't have anything to do with one another. Sure, they all existed at the same time, but that is not a good enough connection to place them all together in a book. I felt like I was reading three separate books that just ...more
Kim Ess
Jan 25, 2018 rated it liked it
The book was interesting but fragmented. I thought it was going to be about Jesse Pomeroy, the child serial killer, but the author strayed from that storyline with whole sections going into great detail about the great Boston Fire of 1872, author Herman Melville, and then Oliver Wendell Holmes. I really don't understand how all of these subjects were supposed to coincide. All of the subjects were interesting even though I still don't get the connection. ...more
Nov 03, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo
***I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair, honest review, all opinions expressed are my own***
Boston in the late nineteenth- century, the streets are haunted by the shadow of the ‘red devil’ a malevolent entity that preys on local boys, leaving them beaten and bruised. As more children are found a similar chilling detail in their memories surfaces: their torturer and abductor is not a devil but a boy barely older the
Virgowriter (Brad Windhauser)
The book is written well (at the sentence level, and it's interesting enough. You can also clearly tell the author has read (and digested) every book Erik Larson wrote. The issue with the book is not necessarily that it can't figure out what it is (or what story it's trying to tell); rather, the issue is how this book has been pitched. The cover suggests the story is about a hunt for a serial killer. First, killing two people does not a serial killer make. Furthermore, there's not much of a hunt ...more
Not too much to say except I echo the other readers who complained about this book being about everything except Jesse Pomeroy. Montillo seems to want to show her research into everything but him and we focus on the history of Boston, the Boston Great Fire, Herman freaking Melville, and honestly I think left a big question mark about whether Pomeroy was the person who murdered Katie Curran.

"The Wilderness of Ruin" is a true crime book focusing on the United States youngest serial killer, Jesse P
♥ Marlene♥
Yes Good writing but too dry.
More a history book than true crime.

I started to read this April 9 and read the first half of the book then picked another book to read.

Started reading again. To be honest I had already hard about Jesse Pomeroy. The youngest serial killer so because he was so infamous I was waiting for when he was let free.

Chapters full of other people and in the end he bloody died in prison. He was scary maybe for that time but now we have so many people like him it was a bit bluh.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Prior to reading this book, I had not heard the name Jesse Harding Pomeroy. I am fascinated by serial killer stories. Looking for a book to read and having this one on my shelf for a while, I decided to pick it up.

I want to say that Jesse was evil but it was more then this. In fact, it was like the killings were more of an experiment to him. He was very analytical and intelligent. Even at a young age, he spoke as an mature adult. The way that he did not show emotion when questioned about the ki
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for a salacious, scandalous, or gruesome book on a serial killer, this isn't the book for you - just keep walking.

If, however, you're looking for a wonderfully rich and detailed snapshot of Boston's history during the time that a young serial killer was active, this is the book for you. If you like Melville, Hawthorne, reading about the relationships between events like the Boston Fire and whaling, the changing legal environment and the relationships between some of the most i
Mar 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Whoops, forgot to post this one after I finished. (Sorry, BEP090 class!) Anyway, I really liked this one. The development of Boston as a city is kind of a character in this book, so, boo, Red Sox, but the growth of cities is interesting to me. ANYWAY--Jesse Pomeroy, for some reason, when he is about 12, begins kidnapping, torturing by beating, and, later, killing, younger children. Eventually--spoiler alert, but not much of one--he is caught and imprisoned. When released, and still pretty much a ...more
Jan 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
I received an ARC from a couple weeks ago. This book had so much potential and really fell flat for me. There was a lack of direction that I felt rather keenly throughout the book. It seemed as though the author was torn amongst many subjects: the young serial killer Pomeroy, the Great Boston Fire of 1872, Herman Melville, and, most distracting of all, the detailed history of every part of Boston any of these people walked by, strolled through, or thought about. And however these s ...more
Apr 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
While the tale of young serial killer Jesse Pomeroy in 1870's Boston is unusual, the book feels padded. And why is a painting by C.W. Peale from the 18th century shown with a caption that would lead the reader to believe that is a picture of Pomeroy's victim, Katie Curran? ...more
Rebecca Huston
All I can say about this is that it was a quick read. Not very much on Jesse Pomeroy or his victims, but plenty of tangents that lost the main thread of the book, including Herman Melville and Moby-Dick. It barely eeks out a three star rating and I'm being very generous with that. Not recommended! ...more
Katherine Addison
This book is kind of a mess.

It's about Jesse Pomeroy, Herman Melville, and the Great Boston Fire of 1872, and the biggest problem I had with it is that none of the three has anything very much to do with the other two. This kind of historical writing, the New Historicist anecdote technique expanded to book form, is kind of in vogue right now--it's all postmodern and shit--and when it's done well, it can be extremely illuminating. But to make it work, the reader has to be able to follow the subte
More reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.

I adore true crime books. I adore things about serial killers, who are obviously terrible but are also fascinating. I've watched Criminal Minds through like six times. So when The Wilderness of Ruin popped up in the libraray's true crime category, I was intrigued. Why? Because, according to the cover, this book is supposed to be "A tale of madness, Boston's greatest fire, and the hunt for America's youngest serial killer." In reality, it
Dee Eisel
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, true-crime
Another in a series of late 19th-early 20th century murder sprees that aren’t common knowledge, this is the story of Jesse Pomeroy and his preying on children during his teenage years. It also follows what feels like a trend in true crime books detailing the era: It brings in the larger picture of the world in which these people lives, since it’s so different from our own. That part was OK, I guess. In this case, Montillo chose to weave in the life of Hermann Melville. It didn’t work as well as ...more
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
An overall disappointing read that promised a lot but unfortunately did not deliver. Montillo can write well, but the book's content felt artificially assembled. It seems that the author wanted to follow the pattern of her last book, The Lady and Her Monsters, by linking famous nineteenth century authors like Herman Melville with the acts of violence and murder committed by teenage Jesse Pomeroy. This style does not work for the subject, however. The book is ultimately a flighty overview of late ...more
Kristen Montgomery Breh
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
The worst thing about this book is that the poor writer does pretty good work- I actually found the book fairly interesting - but the title and subtitle are horrible and set the reader up for failure. The book isn’t a sensationalistic story or altogether gripping, as the title would suggest. It does recount some interesting history about Boston of the late 1800s, in particular, the murderer Jesse Pomeroy who was 14 when arrested for grisly crimes, as well as the evolving understanding of insanit ...more
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, 2020-read
This was okay, but be warned; the title says it's about America's youngest serial killer, but that is a pretty small part of the book. There obviously wasn't enough to write about, because the author spends SO MUCH TIME on Herman Freaking Melville. And the history. Oh god, I was bored to tears.

Don't get me wrong, context is great. I did like having some, especially relating to society's outlook on literature and blaming any bad behavior on it. It reminded me very much of Oscar Wilde's trial (whi
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Writing about a specific event in history, especially one that's not well known, authors will sometimes use the device of interweaving more well known events and people from the time period. When done well, this supports the main story and rounds out the book. When done poorly, it just comes across as a series of random and thinly connected items. While the story of Jesse Pomeroy is a particularly vile case of a young psychopath and the youngest person convicted & incarcerated, the delivery meth ...more
Aug 08, 2017 rated it liked it
While I really enjoyed listening to each of the topics addressed in the book, it ultimately felt like it was clunky and cobbled together. The author went back and forth among the topics and it was jarring at times.

Still, it was interesting enough that I'd recommend it to fans of true crime - just don't expect the entire book to be about the true crime aspect.
Mar 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
The Wilderness of Ruin: a Tale of 19th Century Boston, Herman Melville, and a Child Psychopath would be a more accurate title.
Dec 05, 2020 rated it did not like it
There were tangents upon tangents upon further tangents. incredibly hard to finish because of this as the story was difficult to follow.
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Roseanne Montillo is the author of two other works of nonfiction, The Lady and her Monsters and The Wilderness of Ruin. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, where she taught courses on the intersection of literature and history. She lives outside of Boston.

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