Book Review: Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust and Murder in Queer New York


Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

During the period from the spring of 1991 to mid-summer in 1993, the dismembered bodies of four men were discovered outside of New York City. In each discovery the body parts were neatly double bagged in garbage cans at rest stops - one in Pennsylvania, two in New Jersey and one along the Hudson River in New York State. All four of the men were gay, and all four seemed to have been last seen alive in bars in Manhattan. They were the victims of a serial killer who gained the nickname of The Last Call Killer.

In Last Call author Elon Green tells the story of these men and their murderer, his eventual capture and his conviction. Much of the book is devoted to the stories of the lives of the victims. In order to tell their stories Green spent a couple of years on the road investigating. If not for his hard work, the lives of these men would likely have remained stories untold. 

He does a great job with their stories. Born in the first half of the 20th century, these men grew up in a time when being gay meant you were a target of ridicule and more - subject to beatings, arrest, and the loss of your job if that fact became known.

 By the time of the events in this book Stonewall and the Gay Liberation movement were already in the past. But the changes those events represented impacted the lives of these men unevenly. Two of the victims were married, living their gay lives on the down low. One turned tricks near Penn Station, and one was out and identifiably gay to all who knew him. 

As good a job as Green does capturing each of these men's stories, he has captured the times equally as well. I worked in Manhattan for two years in the late 1980s and I recall the piano bars described in the book, both in the Village and in midtown, having visited a few myself. It was in specific bars - establishments that attracted older men looking to meet up with younger men, that the killer encountered his victims.

For as much investigation as Green did, what's missing from this book for me is more depth of storytelling on the impact of the Last Call Killer on the gay community in New York. A group called the Anti-Violence Project (AVP) acts in the book as somewhat of a stand-in for the broader gay community. The AVP was a group formed as a means of combating the gay bashing and violence then rampant in gay neighborhoods. The group worked with police on the Last Call Killer case as a liaison to the community in reporting tips, etc. Compared to the depth of the material in the rest of the book this part seemed pretty superficial to me. 

As readers we all come to books with different expectations. I've read a few Amazon reviews from True Crime aficionados who I'm sure would disagree with the assessment in my last paragraph - they complain that all the "reportage" was distracting from the plot. I come at this book not as a True Crime, but rather as a window into this place and this time, a history in other words, and I wanted more of the context and detail others find distracting.

In the end I found Last Call to be a worthwhile read. It's a short book at 250-ish pages including Notes. Green's writing makes for easy reading. If you are interested in True Crime, stories of gay men in post-Stonewall New York, or just American life in the late 20th century, then there is something in this book for you. I rate Last Call Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐. 

NOTE: This book is available now in hardcover and audiobook formats. A paperback is expected in May of 2022.

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