A New York Times bestseller, The Midnight Assassin is a sweeping narrative history of a terrifying serial killer--America's first--who stalked Austin, Texas in 1885.
In the late 1800s, the city of Austin, Texas was on the cusp of emerging from an isolated western outpost into a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. But beginning in December 1884, Austin was terrorized by someone equally as vicious and, in some ways, far more diabolical than London's infamous Jack the Ripper. For almost exactly one year, the Midnight Assassin crisscrossed the entire city, striking on moonlit nights, using axes, knives, and long steel rods to rip apart women from every race and class. At the time the concept of a serial killer was unthinkable, but the murders continued, the killer became more brazen, and the citizens' panic reached a fever pitch.
Before it was all over, at least a dozen men would be arrested in connection with the murders, and the crimes would expose what a newspaper described as "the most extensive and profound scandal ever known in Austin." And yes, when Jack the Ripper began his attacks in 1888, London police investigators did wonder if the killer from Austin had crossed the ocean to terrorize their own city.
With vivid historical detail and novelistic flair, Texas Monthly journalist Skip Hollandsworth brings this terrifying saga to life.
Fans of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City will relish this gripping and atmospheric account of a horrific series of murders in late 19th-century Texas that are largely obscure today, despite their fantastical elements and similarities to the Jack the Ripper butcheries. Texas Monthly editor Hollandsworth provides the definitive account of the killings that began on New Year's Eve 1884, when someone attacked African-American cook Mollie Smith, stabbing her repeatedly and nearly splitting her head in two. With a novelist's eye for detail, the author brings the reader inside the reign of terror that gripped Austin, Tex., as the killer "crisscrossed the entire city, striking on moonlit nights, using axes, knives, and long steel rods to rip apart women from every race and class." Hollandsworth successfully conveys the horror of the crimes, the baffling lack of an obvious motive, the so-called Midnight Assassin's almost supernatural ability to strike twice in less than an hour, and the ineffective official responses to the murders. This true crime page-turner is a balanced and insightful examination of one of the most stirring serial killing sprees in American history, and certainly one of the least well-known.
A good satisfying read
Skip does a terrific job of using history to set the tone and provide vivid context around each murder. This is of course accomplished through some tireless research I'm sure he would admit was on the verge of obsession. I am not an avid reader but I'm sure many writers employ the technique of toggling back and forth between history lesson and subject matter. Skip manages this without ever becoming boring. It is peculiar how the occurrences were so unspeakably horrible that a much more Puritan society decided it was best to erase it from history altogether.
Fantastic Author, Thrilling Story
Skip Hollandsworth is my favorite "Texas Monthly" contributor - and I think this book clearly shows that's for good reason. In my experience, the inexplicable nature of still-unresolved mysteries tends to inhibit the sort of "gravitational pull" of narratives spun around them; however, Hollandsworth has plied his considerable talents in having written what is, ultimately, an engrossing, affecting, page-turner of a book about a century-old killer to whose identity few clues have ever been collected and will almost certainly never be known. This is not to say that you won't be disappointed at the end of this thrilling story; rather, that this disappointment will almost certainly stem from the realization that you've run out of pages to read, not from the lack of a tidy and well-supported solution.
Don't Compare This To Larsenn
I don't usually not finish a book, but this was not written very well. Lots of detail (too much?) without ever fleshing out the characters. The style is kind of stiff. I really wanted this to be like "Devil In The White City", but it wasn't remotely close. Lots of facts, not much feeling.