Nickel, Steven. Torso: The Story of Eliot Ness and the Search for a Pyschopathic Killer
. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1989.
About half of what's wrong with this book is that it was written in 1989. So the book that would actually have been extremely interesting, about the ways that racism, classism, and homophobia shaped the police response to, the press response to, the investigation of, and the failure to find the Cleveland Torso Murderer, is not the book that is actually present. (To be fair, I don't know that any of those things is
the reason the Cleveland Torso Murderer was never caught. He seems to have been both extraordinarily lucky and extraordinarily careful. But even in Nickel's account, I can see prejudice shaping the questions being asked, and if you don't ask the right questions, you are highly unlikely to get the right answers.)
The other half of what's wrong with this book is all there in the subtitle. Nickel wants to write a book about Eliot Ness and the Cleveland Torso Murderer, specifically then way that the failure to catch the guy was part of Ness's slow fall from grace. But his own account makes it perfectly clear that that story is nonsense. Ness was barely involved in the hunt (except for, granted, one absolutely absymal clusterfuck), and his fall from grace has everything to do with some very poor life choices on his part. Yes, the raid on the encampment of homeless people that was Ness's best answer to the problem was a PR disaster, but it's not what destroyed his career as Cleveland's Safety Director. (Being the perpetrator in a alcohol-related hit-and-run accident? Yeah, that'd be the kiss of death. And the rest of Ness's downward slide looks to me, from Nickel's sketchy account, like what happens when a guy who's very very good at one thing stops doing it and then just doesn't even know who he is anymore.)
Essentially, it's a coincidence that in the years that the Cleveland Torso Murderer was preying on the homeless and destitute in Cleveland the city's Safety Director was a guy who happens to be extremely famous for his campaign against Al Capone. Nickel's efforts to make it look like something more (including the desperate grab at Ness's (equally desperate) claim to have found the murderer, even though he couldn't convict him or arrest him or even, apparently, investigate him--kind of creepily like Sir Robert Anderson's similar claim about Jack the Ripper) would need a lot more research to make them convincing.
That's the other problem. This is a dilettante's book. (And, yes, I know. Pot. Kettle.) Compared to something like And the Dead Shall Rise
(649 p., 56 double-columned pages of citations, 4 double-columned pages of bibliography) it is painfully obvious how Torso
(224 p., no citations, maybe a page and a half of bibliography) is barely even a swipe at the subject--either subject, since this is no more a biography of Eliot Ness than it is a study of the Cleveland Torso Murderer.