Book Review: The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer by Roseanne Montillo

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

When it comes to Halloween (and October in general), there are two types of books I crave to read: horror novels, and nonfiction true crime books, especially those about serial killers. So it makes sense why I picked up this book. Like the majority of famous serial killers, I’ve heard of Jesse Pomeroy before, though “America’s youngest serial killer” is a bit of a misnomer, as Pomeroy was only the youngest person in the history of Massachusetts to be convicted of first degree murder. But still, I’ll accept the dramatic title. Unfortunately, this book did not live up to my expectations.

Release: 2015

Page Count: 308

Format: Audiobook

Synopsis: In the early 1870s, children in Boston began to disappear. Some were found beaten and abused but alive, and others weren’t so lucky. Authorities track attacks to fourteen-year-old Jess Pomeroy, a boy with a disturbed past. Thus begins a tale of Boston, a great fire, the infamous author of Moby Dick, and one of the youngest serial killers in history.


I love true crime novels, especially those which take place over a century ago. I cannot get enough of Jack the Ripper, Albert Fish, and Mary Ann Cotton. I should have liked this book, and there are some parts I did like. Unfortunately, it really falls flat because of its lack of focus. For more than half the book, Jesse Pomeroy’s story is ignored for tales of Boston and famous historical figures like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Herman Melville. Even when the book focuses on Pomeroy, it is mostly his later life after he was convicted, with little focus on the crimes or capture itself. Because of that, I could never get a firm grasp of the points Montillo was trying to make.

I do want to mention one thing this book does well. I appreciated how Montillo doesn’t just tell the story of Pomeroy with the horrific details of the torture and murder of his victims, but also try to understand why he did it. She examines his motivations and causes. He was clearly a psychopath, but he was also physically abused by his father. Montillo also examines an idea that we are discussing still in modern day, about the connection between violent media and violence in children. In modern day usually video games come to mind, but in Pomeroy’s case he read violent magazine stories which were common at the time.

However, I personally didn’t see any connection between reading the magazines and violence to be compelling, especially considering that many boys his age read those magazines and didn’t turn violent. It was much more likely his father’s abuse and his psychotic tendencies that caused it.

Saying that, this book rarely stays focused. It will talk for many chapters about Herman Melville’s life, who had some interest in the Pomeroy case. Besides that connection, and Melville’s interest in understanding madness, there is no connection to the case and yet his life probably fills 100 pages of this book. Also, there are many tangents about the history of Boston and famous figures in Boston.

In many places, it felt like Montillo had just discovered something interesting and then run with it in the book, instead of pausing and asking if it fit into the story. If the book had more focus, I would have enjoyed it more, but as it stands now, it felt meandering and dull.

Have you read a book which meanders so much it is boring or unfocused? Does this book look interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer by Roseanne Montillo

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