‘Death in the Air’

deathairTwo killers are the focus of Death in the Air (2017) by Kate Winkler Dawson: a 1952 “London particular” with toxic levels of particulate, and murderer John Reginald Christie. Both historical nonfiction and true crime, Death in the Air is an exemplar for rigorous research and journalistic storytelling.

The narrative follows the development of a thick fog that suffocated London in early December 1952, a fog made lethal by the addition of smoke and sulphur dioxide from coal burning; and its devastating impact, told through first-person accounts of people like teenaged Rosemary Sargent and policeman Stanley Crichton. The smog was so dense that visibility was obliterated. People were just trying to breathe, so the actions of John Reginald Christie went unnoticed. The book details Christie’s days before, during, and after the Great Smog, and explains how catastrophic events served to keep him hidden from scrutiny for so long.

Dawson highlights the political and social gridlock that resulted from the smog and its aftermath. Suppression of the truth is a recurring theme, both at the government level and in families coping with loss.