A Twist at The End Paperback – Dec 9 2001
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
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