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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The negative reviews here are pretty much on target. Long, slow, no reason to really care about the characters, and no mystery. Read morePublished on April 2 2004
Murder, he wish he'd wrote...Saylor that is! This is the worse kind of dribble, but a great alternative for folks who can't take Valium to get to sleep nights. Read morePublished on July 19 2002
I'm in a bit of quandary with this one. I did enjoy reading it, and thought the characters and setting were quite interesting. Read morePublished on Jan. 12 2002
"Servant Girl Annihilators"
This is the first Steven Saylor book that I have read. And, I actually enjoyed it even though it is apparent early in the book who the... Read more
After reading and highly enjoying all the Gordianus the Finder books by Saylor (which I do highly recommend), Twist at the End finds Saylor taking a new tact. Read morePublished on Jan. 2 2002 by Kindle Customer
I thought I might not enjoy this as much as Saylor's Roman novels, but it totally blew me away. Unlike some other reviewers here, I found it a riveting page-turner. Read morePublished on Nov. 21 2001 by Kay Kelly
I most enjoyed the verbal pictures of 19th-century Austin and some of its people, including O. Henry. The plot focuses on Austin's serial murders of the 1880s. Read morePublished on July 11 2001 by Phil