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Will is summoned back to Austin by a mysterious stranger bearing a letter whose author claims to have discovered the perpetrator of the hideous crimes; Saylor cleverly frames the story as a series of flashbacks during Will's trip to Texas. The sense of the train moving both forward, west toward Austin, and backward, deep into the past, accelerates the story itself, creating a foreboding sense of portent. Will himself is an engaging protagonist: "He considered himself to be fairly well-rounded, for a self-educated fellow. He could throw a lariat, quote from Idylls of the King, and grow an exceedingly fine moustache. Despite this résumé, once in Austin he had encountered some difficulties in earning a livelihood." His youth and naiveté are compelling counterpoints to the gritty boisterousness of the capital city, which Saylor evokes with careful precision.
Saylor has a light touch with historical irony. All too often, writers wrestle unsuccessfully with the temptation to have their characters make claims that we know, with all the wisdom of hindsight, will be disproved. The trick is to do this without making readers feel they've been poked sharply in the ribs (Do you get it? Do you get it?), and Saylor exhibits the commendable talent of grounding his characters' thoughts and observations in their historical context; they never seem forced or sly.
Unfortunately, the urge toward verisimilitude carries its own risks. Too often, Saylor will weave an item of historical record into his narrative--the so-called Female Clerks bill, for example--then seem oddly compelled to dispose of it; he brusquely states its actual outcome and drops it forevermore. The reader has the impression of a file drawer sliding shut (perhaps the one labeled "Historical Atmosphere"). Such moments, though they testify to Saylor's familiarity with Texas history, rupture the flow of the narrative.
The opening of the novel is so successful--with its O. Henry-esque twist that leaves readers ruefully shaking their heads, realizing too late the author's trickery--that one expects great things from the conclusion. Sadly, Saylor falls short of his own inspiration; the dénouement may be logical, but it certainly is neither startling nor ironic, and what, after all, is an O. Henry story without irony? --Kelly Flynn
Descrição do produto
The city of Austin, Texas, “is fearfully dull,” wrote young Will Porter to a friend in the spring of 1885, “except for the frequent raids of the Servant Girl Annihilators, who make things lively in the dead of night.”
Years later, Will Porter would become the most famous writer in America— O. Henry, the toast of New York. The long-ago Austin servant girl murders would remain unsolved. But behind the O. Henry pen name, Will Porter was a man with secrets. The appearance of a merciless blackmailer and a mysterious stranger draw Porter back into the past, and back to Texas, to confront the twisted solution to those murders—and the secrets of his own soul.
When he was a young man in Austin in that spring of 1885, Porter fell in love. Her name was Eula Phillips. She was beautiful. She was married to someone else. And she was doomed to be a victim of the Servant Girl Annihilators.
The first victims were young Black women who worked in the households of Austin's most prominent citizens. The crimes were unspeakable, as the killer or killers used an ax and—in the newspaper parlance of the day—“outraged” the victims even as they were dying or already dead. The authorities were baffled. The murders continued, month after month, until suddenly, shockingly, on a bloody Christmas Eve, the pattern changed—and the trial that resulted would uncover an explosive scandal of sex and power that would tear the city of Austin apart.
The scene of these crimes was a capitol city in uneasy transition. On the wooded hills where outlaw gangs and Comanche Indians recently roamed now stood the grand homes of cattle barons and university professors. The animosities of the Civil War still lingered, and the struggle of Blacks for equality was just beginning. By day, politicians in the state legislature debated equal rights for women; by night, those same politicians mingled with the prostitutes of Guy Town, the city's notorious vice district. Southern manners concealed ugly secrets, all of which would be revealed before the saga of the Servant Girl Annihilators reached its end.
Against this remarkably rich and previously untapped background, Steven Saylor has crafted a novel that melds fact with fiction, employing characters both real and imagined. The crimes and trials described in "A Twist at the End" actually happened, and are described in intricate detail. In real life, no satisfactory resolution was reached. But in the course of investigating the crimes, Saylor has come up with his own startling conclusion to a century-old mystery. The result is a masterful novel of intrigue and murder, yet at the same time a romance of time and place, with a colorful cast of memorable characters brought vividly to life. It's a true tale of Texas, grand in both setting and scope.
"A riveting historical mystery...It’s all fascinating and provocative.” (New York Times Book Review)
“One of the mystery genre’s most inventive writers has turned his considerable talents—and his considerable ambition—to Austin, Texas, in 1885...The result is a worthwhile, engrossing, deftly written novel...Throughout, Saylor brings to bear his remarkable ability to evoke a vanished time.” (Sunday Oregonian)
"Saylor, a veteran of the historical novel, navigates these rapids with confident skill...Better still, in the manner of O. Henry himself, he saves a cunning twist for the end.” (Washington Post Book World)
“Saylor writes with a flawless hand perfectly matched to his story’s time and place." (Austin Chronicle)