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A Twist at The End [Mass Market Paperback]

Steven Saylor
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 9 2001
Austin, Texas, in 1885 is a place of dust and dreams, quick riches, and wild desires. But "the Servant girl Annihilators" are also making it a city of fear. The first victim, a mulatto housekeeper, is torn from her bed and murdered. Six more women will die, including pretty blond Eula Phillips, who is bank clerk's Will Porter's lover. Over a decade later, living in New York as O. Henry, Will cannot escape his memories--or a blackmailer's merciless demands. Then a mysterious letter invites him back to Texas to follow the dark path of a sadistic killer and make a stunning discover as he is forced to confront the demons of his own tormented mind...

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From Amazon

Austin, Texas, 1885. Manhattan, 1906. Twenty-year-old ghosts haunt Will Porter, a.k.a. famous writer O. Henry, who may have changed names and cities but hasn't outrun the memory of a series of murders that cast a chilling shadow over a sunny and bustling town. In A Twist at the End, Steven Saylor, author of the Roma Sub Rosa mystery series (Rubicon, The House of the Vestals, A Murder on the Appian Way, The Venus Throw), riffs on reality: brutal and sadistic, the "Servant Girl Annihilator" killed seven Austin women in 1885, but the murders were never solved. Saylor weaves together murder mystery and love story, historical exploration and fictional creation, combining careful research with artistic license to hazard a potential solution to the now-obscure mystery.

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.

From Publishers Weekly

Based on the scandal-ridden life of short story master O. Henry and a string of gruesome murders committed in 1885 Austin, Tex., this captivating historical romance noir should be heralded as a breakout for the seasoned author of Rubicon (one of seven mysteries in his popular Roma Sub Rosa series). The intricately structured narrative opens in New York in 1906, when William Sydney Porter, now in his mid-40s and enjoying fame under the nom de plume O. Henry, is being blackmailed by the wife of a wealthy Wall Street broker who threatens to expose his secret past: the writer once served hard time as a convicted embezzler. Porter also encounters a Dr. Kringel, who bears a letter and a train ticket from the celebrated physician, Dr. Edmund Montgomery, and his wife, noted sculptress Elisabet Ney, inviting Porter to return to their plantation near Austin to learn the truth about a 20-year-old series of unsolved murders. Deftly shifting back and forth between 1906 and 1885, the novel describes Porter's life as a likable 25-year-old free spirit who--working odd jobs and hanging out with Dave Shoemaker, a young crime reporter on the Austin Statesman--gets caught up in an unsatisfactory affair with a young married woman. Porter then recalls his unwitting connection to a series of brutal axe murders of seven young women who were sexually ravaged after their deaths. A hard look at racial bigotry and politico-economic deceit in post-Civil War Texas, this well-researched, capably written novel functions not only as cracking good historical entertainment, but also as an effective morality play. Agent, Alan Nevins. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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WILLIAM Pendleton Gaines, publisher and editor of the Austin Statesman, took a sip of scalding coffee and stepped onto his balcony. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Misunderstood May 14 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Based on what I have read from majority of the prior reviewers, I have discovered a trend. All of the reviewers were fans of the Roma Sub Rosa series, and obviously were looking for more. I had not heard of Steven Saylor (as I am not a "Roman Reader") until an interview on this very book on NPR. The next day I carried a hard cover out of Book People and had finished it within 24 hours, happy to have found a great new author to enjoy. Saylor's has a great ability to bring fact and fiction together, both with his characters and the environment in which he surrounds them, he completely emerges the reader in the events of the time. Afterwards I proceeded to purchase the Roma Sub Rosa series, as I wanted more of Saylor, and I enjoyed each one as much as this book, and also hope there will be more, but I will always be glad my first Saylor novel was "A Twist at the End". I believe every author needs to branch out and try new interests, but it shows here how loyal fans can easily turn on a great writer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Saylor is a Detective May 6 2004
By mec
Format:Mass Market Paperback
His research in the Sub Rosa Series paints a very believable picture of life at the end of the Republic. Likewise, his excavation of late 19th Century Central Texas is both accurate and verifiable. Lady liberty of the State Capitol building is every bit as ugly faced as he describes and no Texas City would have survived without a tenderloin district like "Guy Town." ( In Waco, we called it " The Reservation" and it lasted right up until Prohibition and other such noble experiments did so much to unravel the moral fiber of the nation).
William Sydney Porter really did live in Austin and San Antonio in the time frame of the novel and no doubt traveled the region on the extensive rail system that then extended all over the fifty-year-old fifedom of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston.
By 1888, The Texas Capitol plaza was lighted by electric arc lights
The actions and nature of Saylor's characters are real- or real enough to let the reader suspend disbelief and he unravels a true century-old mystery in a most believable and satisfactory manner.
The title " A Twist at the End" is more of a bow to the trademark of the main character than a synopsis of the book. That the reader is able to sort out the mystery well before Mr. Porter learns the whole truth, in no way detracts from the satisfing nature of this story.
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1.0 out of 5 stars STICK TO ANCIENT ROME.....PLEASE!! Jan. 28 2003
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Oh, how I love Saylor's ancient Roman murder mysteries! That's where his heart lies and that's where the talent really is. I have a passing acquaintamce with Saylor and was thrilled to learn from him that he'd written a novel set in Texas in the late 18th/early 20th century. In fact, I ran to the store that day and purchased a copy. From page 1 something bothered me about the story, the narrative, the book. It took me about 20 pages to discern that what bothered me was that it was all written in the present tense. Example (not from Saylor's book): "By this time, I'm hungry. I go to a sandwich shop and get a nice fat ham and cheese. I eat it so fast that I dribble mustard on my shirt. I run to get some water to clean it..." This drove me batty and I couldn't, despite many further attempts, finish this creaky, ill-conceived disaster. Again, let me state for all time what a genius Saylor is with his Roman work -- everyone should read them; they're all real page-turners. But let me also caution Mr. Saylor that, next time I meet you, I'd like to say how wonderful your last book was instead of what I think of this one.
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4.0 out of 5 stars enjoy it for the history, not the mystery... Dec 26 2002
By lazza
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Steven Saylor is known for his fine (Roman) historical detective series. However with the unfortunately titled 'Twist at the End' (..known as 'Honour the Dead' in Britain) Saylor spins a mystery fable based in his home town of Austin (Texas), circa 1885. He has cleverly recontructed a story surrounding a series of true crimes: the brutal murders of young women over a two year period (..in fact these crimes were never solved). Saylor makes use of some infamous/notorious late 19th century Austin residents to embellish his story. Sadly, these embellishments completely ruin any sense of believability; this is a major "no-no" with any piece of historical fiction. And as other reviewers noted, despite its title no one will find a "twist at the end" here.
But all is not lost. The prose flows very well, and the characterizations have some depth to them. I actually enjoyed 'Twist at the End' for its snapshot of 1880s Austin life. Folks interested in Texas history will appreciate the author's obvious detailed research.
Bottom line: certainly a half-baked mystery novel. But the overall writing talents of the author and historical perspectives make 'Twist a the End' a surprisingly decent read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars THE ALIENIST of the West April 15 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Steven Saylor is perhaps, barring the great Caleb Carr, the best historical novelist around today. Known for his Roma Sub Rosa series and his wonderful Gordianus the Finder, Saylor travels forward in time and regales the reader with a murder mystery that is based on real life and a "detective" who is a fellow writer- O. Henry.
In terms of plotting and chracterization, Saylor cannot entertain the reader in A TWIST AT THE END as Caleb Carr did in THE ALIENIST. The latter book, a hefty 500+ page tome, gave us an indelible and fascinating look at late 19th century New York city with the kind of perspective that only a gifted historian can give to a lively period in a great metropolis's history. Here, Saylor excels when he confines his novels to ancient Rome.
1884-5 Austin is rocked and caught unawares with what is falsely credited as the nation's first serial murders. The police are of course baffled and William Sydney Porter, the so-called detective in this novel, is more concerned with slacking off and warbling love ditties under the windows of Austin's young ladies than in solving the case. Even after his beloved Eula Philips is brutally murdered, Porter does not do much to advance the investigation. Nor should he. It was a classic case of the wrong protagonist being at the right time, as O. Henry was indeed present in Austin during the murders. Imagine Oscar Wilde being made the hero of a Jack the Ripper novel and you'll see my meaning.
A large reason why THE ALIENIST and its sequel worked is because we got a sense that an investigation was being made, that, if not the police someone was doing their best to apprehend the killer. As Saylor rightly posits, the Austin police dragged their heels during this real-life investigation.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Simply, this is not very good
The negative reviews here are pretty much on target. Long, slow, no reason to really care about the characters, and no mystery. Read more
Published on April 2 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Worse Kind of Dribble!
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 more
Published on July 19 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars What Twist?
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 more
Published on Jan. 12 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Twist at the End" is better than...
"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
Published on Jan. 2 2002 by "donmurk"
2.0 out of 5 stars What a disappointment!
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 more
Published on Jan. 2 2002 by Diogenes
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved it!
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 more
Published on Nov. 21 2001 by Kay Kelly
4.0 out of 5 stars 4 Stars--If You LikeTexas History
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 more
Published on July 11 2001 by Phil
3.0 out of 5 stars Good history, little mystery
This book -- based on very real historical characters and an all-too-real series of murders in very darn real 19th century Austin, TX -- is a marvel of historical detail. Read more
Published on May 10 2001
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