cover image Murder by the Numbers: An Eliot Ness Novel

Murder by the Numbers: An Eliot Ness Novel

Max Allan Collins. St. Martin's Press, $17.95 (210pp) ISBN 978-0-312-08856-9

The fourth Eliot Ness novel from the prolific Collins ( Bullet Proof ), who also pens the Dick Tracy comic strip, is action-packed but essentially lifeless (despite the fact that many of the characters are actual figures). Former Untouchable Ness (who sent Al Capone to prison on tax evasion charges) has moved from Chicago to Cleveland, where he is out to break up the Mayfield Road mob, which five years earlier, in 1933, eliminated black numbers king Rufus Murphy. Forging an uneasy alliance with black detective Toussaint Johnson, and counting on the smoldering resentment of the black community, Ness assembles 70 witnesses and goes to the grand jury. Indictments follow for two Mayfield kingpins, Salvatore Lombardi and the sadistic Angelo Scalise. With a tip of the hat to Cleveland's Depression-era black crime novelist Chester Himes (whom he depicts working at the city's Karamu Theater), Collins effectively evokes the era, but his characters--the square-jawed, uncompromising Ness and slimy, sinister gangsters--remain cartoonish. (Mar.)