Ballantine, Jan 2009, $26.00
The pinnacle of Eliot Ness’ career is when he took down Al Capone on charges of failing to pay income taxes. He became a hero as a legendary symbol of the dedicated good guys defeating the evil mobsters. Now he is in Detroit working for the Alcohol Tax Unit within the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The newly elected mayor hires him as the Safety Director. He has the power to weed out police corruption, illegal gambling, and do something to reduce the high level of juvenile crime; he also hopes to reduce vehicular deaths, the biggest killer in the Motor City.
Ness is working hard at reform and meeting with a lot of success especially with the support of the media and the public. However, a killer is operating in the shantytown side of Detroit, murdering transients, hookers and petty felons; the predator decapitates the victim while also removing other body parts. The police are baffled as they have never heard of such a killer; one who picks victims at random with no common denominator. The press demands Ness take the lead and bring this psychopath to justice. The only suspect he uncovers, Ness is unable to investigate as he has powerful political connections. Frustrated his final case begins his spiral into oblivion.
After the Torso Murder case, Ness became disillusioned with the reporters and the media who turned on him; his wife left him; and he became an alcoholic. For the rest of his life he was never at peace because of what he was persuaded to do. This biographical fiction of an American icon (thanks to the Untouchables) is well written as Ness is made into a caring human who bleeds. William Bernhardt enables the reader to get past the TV series and movie to the real Ness, who turns acrimonious once the political system chews him up.