Ness Vs. The Torso Murderer

Title: American Demon:
Eliot Ness and the Hunt for America’s Jack the Ripper
Author: Daniel Stashower
Genre: True Crime
Pages: 308 (plus citations, index, etc.)
Rating: 4 of 5
(Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of my review.)

Eliot Ness’s fame rests on his involvement in taking down Al Capone, especially as portrayed in the various incarnations of the highly sensationalized The Untouchables. In this book, Stashower recounts what came next for Ness as safety director of Cleveland, though he also rehashes & demythologizes Ness’s Chicago days. As the title suggests, the book focuses mostly (but by no means exclusively) on Ness’s investigation of the string of gruesome murders and dismemberments that rocked Cleveland at this time.

If you are a fan of true crime, this book is worth your time. Don’t expect everything to wrap up in a nice, neat bow (the torso murders are still technically unsolved), but the author brings it to a satisfactory conclusion. You should be aware that this is more about the career of Eliot Ness than about any sort of innovative new approach to the murders. As long as you go into it with that understanding, it is an excellent true crime read.

Back to the Classics (Kind of)

Title: Classic Monsters Unleashed
Authors: 30 of “the biggest names in the genre” (according to Amazon)
Editor: James Aquilone
Genre: Horror Story Anthology
Pages: 443
Rating: 3.5 of 5
Future Publication Date: July 12, 2022 (Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review.)

Your enjoyment of this collection will hinge quite a bit on how much you know and appreciate classic monster stories, especially as they have been portrayed on the big screen. With most of the entries you need at least a passing knowledge of the original (or classic screen-adapted) version for the “unleashed” story to really make sense.

There is good variety in the monsters/creatures featured across the collection. I think that Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and werewolves are the only ones to make multiple appearances with 2-3 apiece (pretty impressive in a collection of 29 stories).

That being said, most of the plots fell into just a handful of categories used in various combinations:

  1. Classic monster returns to cause more mayhem.
  2. Try to guess which monster this is about before the big reveal…
  3. Recast monster as misunderstood victim and/or hero as the villain.
  4. Gender swap characters.
  5. Engage in social commentary on gender or race.

I preferred the stories that built on the already-established characters rather than completely re-imagining them, but that’s just my personal taste.

Stylistically, this was a mixed bag. Some stories felt stilted, as if the author was just phoning it in and checking off the boxes needed to make a creature feature. Others demonstrated creativity and variety in language usage (including annoying but clever use of textspeak in Dacre Stoker’s offering). I would say that the well-written outnumber the “meh.”

Overall, this is worth a read if you are into classic monster horror. However, as with many bulky themed anthologies, you might want to take some time between stories so that they don’t start to sound repetitive.