An interminable, overpopulated investigation into turn-of-the-century psychopathic murders in Philadelphia, heavy on creepy subplots, obvious red herrings, forced period touches, and painfully precious dialect. ""Thad'z all righd, Counzelor. The loodenand cand helb the way he dalkz,"" says the foul newspaper editor who keeps hounding the police, who regularly arrest and quiz innocent suspects in the murders and dismemberments of various Philly streetwalkers. ""I no scared o' dott Butcher yanko, goddamn,"" says the Polish cook who works for forensic pathologist Ian Blakely, a transplanted Britisher who is helping the police with the investigation. Also sleuthing: girl reporter Allison Meredith, whom cop Nathan McBride finds annoying but alluring. ""The Butcher,"" as it happens, is a 150-year-old doctor who, with the aid of a drug addict and a transvestite, has been committing the murders in order to extract from the bodies a precious antigen that keeps him forever young. Notwithstanding this comic-book villain, first-novelist Thornton could perhaps have made something light and tongue-in-cheeky out of his mixture of gore with suffragette marches and such--but it would have to have been half as long and twice as selective as this diffuse, occasionally charming, occasionally insufferable mish-mash.