Reviews and Comments

"Robert Loerzel swiftly narrates the events ... For contemporary readers, this book will be a companion piece to Erik Larson's Devil in the White City ... Loerzel's book, while not pulpy like Larson's, is still probably one of the few university press books one might reasonably call a "page-turner," and will interest any reader intrigued by Larson's book. Alchemy of Bones is an exceptional example of the true-crime genre ... The book also contains excellent fodder for historians looking for narrative material on public trials, press coverage, criminology, or debates about [the] death penalty in the late nineteenth century."
— Michael Stamm, in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"As a criminalist interested in historic cases, I had heard only whispers about the Luetgert murder case. Even in Chicago, it was mentioned only in anthologies such as those by Jay Robert Nash. Now, thanks to Robert Loerzel, an investigative reporter from Chicago, this fascinating case comes to life to show forensic scientists and investigators how much has changed (and hasn't changed) in the 100 years since it captured the nation's attention."
 — John D. DeHaan, Ph.D., in the Journal of Forensic Sciences

"Well written and soundly researched. A fascinating and strange tale. The book is a vital read that engages on every page, deeply getting into the heads of the characters by the careful study of their actions. I am still haunted ... I still feel the heat in that weird basement. Loerzel is an excellent writer."
  — John Gilmore, author of Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder and Manson: The Unholy Trail of Charlie and the Family

"Anyone in love with the history of Chicago — and there are so many of us — must have this book. Once again, crime leads to records, which in turn lead to stories of court cases and the lives of participants, and then, the creation of a collage based upon the society and culture of the historical past."
Leigh Bienen, co-author (with Gilbert Geis) of Crimes of the Century

"'Alchemy of Bones' is the fascinating account of this largely forgotten case. The author is a seasoned journalist and he re-creates the crime and its aftermath in all of its chilling and shocking detail. Telling this story was no easy accomplishment because it is a rather complex story ... 'Alchemy of Bones' is a remarkable book, guaranteed to stick to the literary ribs. The Luetgert story offers an intriguing glimpse of how a sensational trial was conducted at the end of the 19th century and how the public reacted." Grade: 4 out of 5.
—Tucson Citizen

"Using extensive historical records, (Loerzel) helps today's readers listen in on a trial that in its day commanded attention across the nation and even overseas. While doing so, he captures a snapshot of Chicago at the end of the 19th century, a place of ambitious immigrants, stunning growth and journalistic exuberance right out of 'The Front Page.' ... Loerzel ... keeps the narrative flowing smoothly while filling the book with interesting historical nuggets."
— Chicago Sun-Times

"It unquestionably is the definitive account of the Luetgert murder case ... Loerzel has done a tremendous job of recreating Chicago police work at the turn of the 20th century and the events surrounding the trial including the forensic testimony. It's a fun book to read."
Eugene Giles, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Illinois.

"(Loerzel does) a fine job ... of placing the murder case in the context of late 19th-century Chicago, revealing much, in the process, about how the police and criminal justice system operated at that time. Anyone with an interest in Chicago's past, or noted murder cases, will surely be fascinated by the book."
— John E. Hallwas, author of The Bootlegger

"The Luetgert murder trial of 1897 had it all: sex and sausage-making, chemical vats and cadavers, a charismatic defendant and a famously missing corpse. For a brief time, it transfixed the entire world—then slowly faded from history. Now, in a painstakingly researched and stylishly written book, Robert Loerzel supensefully revives this fascinating but long-forgotten episode in all its macabre glory."
Miles Harvey, author of The Island of Lost Maps

"Exceptionally readable and finely researched. I do not think that any academic historian could do a better job of telling this story. Loerzel's clear, perfectly structured sentences captivate the reader and move the story along in compelling fashion."
—Perry Duis, author of Challenging Chicago