Not for the fainthearted or squeamish, Cooke's fact-based thriller takes a graphic look at a seamy side of 1930s Cleveland. A serial killer stalks male prostitutes and vagrants during Eliot Ness's post-Chicago tenure as Safety Commissioner. In-the-closet cop Hank Lambert recognizes the head lying near other parts of a dismembered body as that of homosexual pimp Eddie Andrassy, the first of many butchered corpses to be found in Cleveland's grimy Kingsbury Run section over the next five years. Lambert's association with a young male hooker with a heart of gold reveals the gay life of the period and eventually leads to the rich, politically well-connected killer, who taunts Ness by leaving gift-wrapped body parts closer and closer to his headquarters. Some readers will be offended by the explicit and kinky sex (notably a bathhouse episode involving a trucker and a chicken), and the ending is an into-the-sunset contrivance, but the talented Cooke ( Out for Blood ) has pulled an interesting switch by casting male characters in the classic women-in-peril roles of a typical slasher novel. (Jan.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the politically corrupt Cleveland of 1935, a number of dismembered bodies, mostly male, are discovered in the seedier parts of town. New Safety Commissioner Eliott Ness, working with homicide detective Hank Lambert, suspects the killer may be a psychopathic homosexual. What he doesn't know is that Lambert, a closet gay, has formed an attachment to a young street hustler connected to the victims. Basing his story on actual unsolved murders, Cooke ( Out for Blood , Avon, 1991) nicely re-creates the atmosphere, squalor, and dubious morality of a Depression-era city and provides some nail-biting suspense as the murderer stalks his victims. Shallow characterizations, unnecessarily graphic sex, and a somewhat melodramatic ending mar the author's accomplishment, but this is still a compelling and unsettling read. -- Eric W. Johnson, Teikyo Post Univ. Lib., Waterbury, Ct.
This unbelievably lurid novel (the title alone tips it off) is based on a real-life case and is notable for featuring a setting never before used in the annals of fiction: the homosexual underground community of 1935 Cleveland. Cooke introduces Hank Lambert, a bisexual police detective assigned to investigate two gruesome murder-mutilations. The number of decapitated torsos quickly escalates, and in the midst of a political power struggle, city hall enlists the help of world-renowned "untouchable" Eliot Ness to help investigate the crime. Simultaneously, young male prostitute Danny Cottone slowly figures out just who the Torso Killer is, and the final pages are a race against time for Hank and Ness to save innocent Danny (who is treated almost like a female ingenue) from the clutches of the evil madman. This is no literary masterpiece, but it keeps the reader's interest, though the setting alone may be off-putting to mainstream readers. It features some scenes of homosexual sex, and the violence is incredibly graphic; but the gay police detective is treated sympathetically despite his betrayal of his wife and family. (Basically, his encounter with the male prostitute is a homosexual variation on the good-cop-falls-for-the-hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold cliche.) Ness, in what is obviously a lesser case in his career, is woefully underused, and the novel in general plays like a gay version of a Republic "B" movie from the 1930s.
An early contender for awards and breakout acclaim.... Cooke is a mature storyteller, handling violence with deadpan power. He writes moody, understated prose and convincingly evokes both the Depression and its erosion of the social fabric.
Author of In Defense of Elitism, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
An unflinching look at a horrifying episode....Thoroughgoing research, attention to detail, and a muscular prose style mark this re-creation of modern America's first serial killer in the days before the word 'serial' came into vogue.
The Silence of the Lambs gave us a serial killer whose effiminacy was blurred with his killer instinct. Torsos superbly redresses the balance with a 1930s case based on facts far stranger than fiction....Cooke succeeds where Thomas Harris failed, and the electrifying set pieces jangle the nerves more than any horror novel in recent memory.' Author of Rune and Spanky, writing in Time Out (London)
A grimly fascinating tale.