TORSO by Steven Nickel


Email this review


Competent crime study that suffers from being two good stories spliced uneasily together: one, a grisly tale of serial killing; the other, the "missing chapter" in the career of famed crimebuster Eliot Ness. When Ness arrived in Cleveland in 1934, he had already locked up Al Capone--and a secure place for himself in American folklore. He was about to face the greatest enemy of his career: the Torso murderer, one of America's first serial killers, who slaughtered and decapitated at least 12 victims Nickel meticulously reconstructs the crimes and their aftermath (the grim physical evidence, the public panic, the police incompetence): a skilled but frustrating exercise, since the killer was never identified, much less apprehended. Concurrently, Nickel traces Ness' career as Cleveland's Director of Public Safety--both the ups, as Ness straightened out a corrupt police department, battled union bosses, and instituted brilliant traffic reforms, and the downs, as he lost his wife, failed to dent the Torso mystery, was trounced in a race for mayor, in sum watched his suit of white armor rust and crack. The story ends on two glum notes: a monster never caught (some think that the Torso Murderer traveled to L.A. to become the Black Dahlia killer), and a hero dying in obscurity (Ness wound up as a paper-product salesman) five months before a book about his life would become a best seller and reclaim his fame forever. Ugly and compelling, though suffering from its dual storyline. Still, the writing is sharp, the characters larger-than-life, and true-crime buffs should enjoy it.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1989
ISBN: 89587-072-X
Publisher: John F. Blair
Review Posted Online: