The case of the Mad Butcher, with its unsatisfying non-finale, fits a bit awkwardly into Messrs. Collins and Schwartz’s wider narrative. In the latter stages of their book, the authors ably follow Ness through an unsuccessful foray into city politics and a disappointing business career. But given this work’s title and its subtitle—'Hunting America’s Deadliest Unidentified Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology'—one sometimes gets the feeling of two different books uneasily hitched ... Messrs. Collins and Schwartz, in this, their second deeply researched book about Ness, don’t gloss over their subject’s failings and blind spots, but they do show that he tried harder than many to leave the world a better place.
Collins and Schwartz have organized their story into alternating threads. One follows Ness’s advancements in police reform and crime fighting as he cleans up the city, while the other documents each new discovery of body parts and the struggle not only to find the killer but to put a name to each victim ... It’s a difficult way to narrate a biography, and readers will feel the struggle between trying to tell a gripping murder mystery on the one hand and documenting the various achievements during Ness’s run as Safety Director on the other hand. The storylines eventually get somewhat tangled up as satisfactory conclusions become fewer and farther between ... the story understandably loses its momentum and becomes tedious and rather depressing toward the end. Not much that biographers can do about that, though ... Nevertheless, Eliot Ness and The Mad Butcher is an excellent biography that reads like a thriller ... It’s a very welcome look at the actual achievements of this remarkable man, separate from the Dick Tracy-like legend, and it’s a worthwhile, entertaining reading experience.
...a meticulously researched work of nonfiction ... The irony of Ness' arrival in Cleveland coinciding with the discovery of body parts littering Lake Erie would symbolize one of the only black marks on his otherwise legendary career. That he was never able to arrest and try someone for these crimes is a reflection of Ness being pulled in too many directions to truly focus on the task at hand and the sad reality that the killer was nearly impossible to pin down.
A sharp history of crusading detective Eliot Ness ... The cat-and-mouse game that ensued makes for a careening read that’s full of surprises, especially once the killer decided that he ought to take the opportunity to taunt his pursuer. Collins and Schwartz deliver a nimble, taut tale. More importantly, they offer a portrait of a complex crime fighter who believed in science and reason at a time when most officers smacked suspects around with a blackjack, a portrait set against a backdrop of ethnic and class collisions, labor unrest, and political intrigue ... Catnip for true-crime buffs.
... [a] meticulously researched but often gloomy account of the life and times of Eliot Ness ... focuses on the legendary lawman’s career starting at the end of Prohibition when he became Cleveland’s Safety Director ... The rest is less true crime than a catalogue of Ness’s far less dramatic endeavors as a bureaucrat: his destruction of Cleveland’s shantytown, which displaced thousands of homeless people; labor racketeering probes that detoured into bingo and pinball gaming; and even crackdowns on traffic congestion and jaywalking. Ness’s move into the private sector in 1945 begins a chain of foolish decisions that eventually cost him his reputation, his sobriety, and his solvency. Readers will wish that the authors had consigned Ness’s post–Mad Butcher career to an epilogue.