A thorough recounting of the career of Eliot Ness (1903–1957), from humble beginning to humble ending, with spectacular fame in between.
Al Capone may have gone to prison for tax evasion, but Perry (The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago, 2010) understands that the name Ness is synonymous with shutting down Capone's bootleg operation. The author ably shows that there was far more to Ness’ career than just his battles with Capone, with accomplishments that may even outweigh his work during Prohibition. Unlike many of his colleagues, Ness did not fade into the background when the law was repealed. After a short stint in Cincinnati, he moved to Cleveland, where the mayor made him director of public safety with instructions to clean up the city. His years in Cleveland were probably the best of his career, with Ness implementing many firsts in the police department that are now standard procedure. Unfortunately, after leaving Cleveland, Ness never re-entered law enforcement and wasn't successful in his other work. Alongside intense and energetic investigative tales, Perry injects humor into the story with anecdotes—e.g., when a Cleveland patrolman, gun drawn, stopped Ness on the street. Though Ness identified himself, the patrolman was skeptical, insisting he was just as likely to be President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Eliot carefully produced his ID and said that, with FDR’s approval, he would like to be on his way,” writes the author. Perry also peppers the book with his own colorful language. While this works in his favor when he calls a bad area of town “Cleveland’s colostomy bag,” it is jarring and off-kilter when he writes that Ness “gave Stafford a little smile, savoring the moment like a postcoital cigarette.”
Despite minor flaws, there is much to learn and enjoy for crime-solving fans and American history buffs.