A sprawling tale of police corruption and a horrifying series of bizarre, gruesome murders.
True-crime vet Graysmith (Amerithrax: The Hunt for the Anthrax Killer, 2003, etc.) paints a vivid portrait of a dynamic era, a Dick Tracy–esque world of gritty cops enforcing order in a fog-shrouded port city. Out of this milieu came the Gorilla Men—a breed apart with broad shoulders, barrel chests, long arms and huge, grasping hands, who drifted across the country and laughingly indulged the murderous impulses flashing behind their vaguely simian features. One was a brain-damaged, Bible-thumping necrophiliac who strangled and dissected his victims. Others autopsied their victims in seedy motels or littered the fringes of society with dismembered torsos. Graysmith includes plenty of sordid details. The book is a vast reservoir of information about dozens of killings and the investigating agents, suspects and witnesses, plus details about labor disputes, graft, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the construction of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, prohibition, newspaper and radio production, local architecture, a solar eclipse and more. The story’s hero is Captain Charles Dullea—the lead investigator on the original Gorilla Man case and one of the few honest cops on the SFPD—but Graysmith covers so much ground and draws so heavily from the stilted language of official documents that the narrative suffers from repetition and a lack of depth.
A compellingly wicked web hard-boiled in broad but shallow waters.