A TWIST AT THE END
A Novel of O. Henry
& the Austin, Texas Servant Girl Murders of 1885
A gripping, epic novel based on the serial murders that terrorized Austin, Texas, in 1885, and the scandalous trials that followed. Drawing on almost a decade of research, Steven recreates a forgotten era, and (with O. Henry as his hero) finds a solution to one of Americas bloodiest and most baffling series of crimes perhaps the first recorded serial murders in U.S. history.
Saylor, who has set several previous mysteries in ancient Rome, has a knack for doing research and presenting the results with panache...The facts are certainly irresistible: in the 1880s, a series of grisly murder-rapes plagued Austin...Add to the mix the fact that O. Henry lived in Austin at the time and was tried for embezzlement, and you have everything you need for a riveting historical mystery...Its all fascinating and provocative, like a good O. Henry story. (Liam Callanan, New York Times Book Review)
Steven Saylors inventive new novel puts a fictional spin on the real-life case of the Servant Girl Annihilators...O. Henry...who actually did live in Austin at the time of the murders, is a canny choice of hero. With his celebrated gift for surprise endings, O. Henry seems a natural gumshoe, perfectly attuned to the twists and turns of the crime story...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. (Daniel Stashower, Washington Post Book World)
One of the mystery genres 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. (Vince Kohler, Sunday Oregonian)
Saylor writes with a flawless hand perfectly matched to his storys time and place. A TWIST AT THE END is a stylish, sometimes gory, mystery that also opens a window onto a fascinating series of events in Texas history...Saylors got a winner on his hands. (Mike Shea, Austin Chronicle)
A gripping read...[and] a heck of a good love story with enough twists and turns and not just at the end to keep any reader guessing. A TWIST AT THE END is a well-constructed, old-fashioned yarn highly recommended for fans of the mystery, the literary novel and Texas history. (Judyth Rigler, San Antonio Express-News)
“In recent American fiction...mysteries...give us some of the most distinctive settings: David Lindsey’s Houston, James Lee Burke’s New Orleans, Lawrence Block’s New York, Steven Saylor’s Austin of 1885.” (Mary Willis Walker, Texas Monthly)
“Saylor again brings his considerable talents to bear, creating a rich historical backdrop for a complex tangle of crime....a rich and fascinating story, all the more intriguing for its blend of fact and fiction.” (Irene Warner, Seattle Times)
“Saylor...has a wry way of putting the vagaries of history into proper perspective.” (Frank Wilson, Philadelphia Inquirer)
A wonderful story...with extremely engaging characters. One of the many things I loved about this mystery is the slow deliberate buildup that Saylor used to bring us to the climax...I never wanted to stop. (The Purloined Letter, Pick of the Month)
Saylor loves the geography of the city, its streets, houses and buildings, and the diverse people who live in them. He delights in evoking period details of the interiors, furnishings, carpets and pictures, as well as placing the reader in the timeless natural landscape of hills and the winding Colorado River. (Richard Dyer, San Jose Mercury News)
This captivating historical romance noir should be heralded as a breakout for the seasoned author. (Publishers Weekly)
“[Saylor] shows how a society that is founded on inequality and injustice can be a perfect hunting ground for the deranged.” (Times Literary Supplement)
Violet Crown Award
Writers League of Texas
Now available for Kindle • Nook • iBooks
Also available for Kindle or Nook in the UK, where Twist was previously published as Honour the Dead.
with Steven Saylor about
A TWIST AT THE END
A TWIST AT THE END is based on actual events. How did you first find out about these crimes?
About eight years ago, on a visit home to Austin Im originally from Texas but I live mostly in California now I came across a brief reference in a coffee table book called Austin: An Illustrated History. It was only a few lines in a year-by-year chronology. Christmas Day, 1885: Austinites awake to discover two more women butchered to death, ending a series of nighttime murders in which eight victims, seven of them females, were killed. The murders were never solved.
I thought: A serial murder, in Austin, predating Jack the Ripper by two years? I had to know more. So the next day I headed for the archives at the Austin History Center and started going through the microfiche of old newspapers. When I found a headline that read Blood! Blood! Blood! I was hooked. I knew at that moment that I was going to write a novel about these killings, even though I had no idea how big the story actually was. As it turned out, the deeper I went into the research, the more amazing the story became theres not only murder, but police corruption, political hypocrisy, prostitution, and a scandalous trial. I had to do all my research from scratch, consulting original sources and court records, because theres never been a history written about these murders and their aftermath.
Why O. Henry for a hero?
I chose Will Porter who later became famous as the writer O. Henry because he was a young man living in Austin at the time. Its Porter who actually coined the phrase Servant Girl Annihilators to tag the unknown killers. His role in the book is largely fictional, but the details of the murders and the trials are absolutely true to history.
So the novel is a mixture of fact and fiction?
In the Authors Note at the end of the book, Ive tried to be very clear about whats fact and whats fiction and how the two are blended.
What about Senate Bill 79, an act of the Texas Legislature which comes up in the novel?
Thats a completely authentic detail that came out of the research. It surprises everyone a move to enact affirmative action for women, in Texas, in 1885? And the arguments pro and con were exactly the same arguments that we hear today, more than a hundred years later. The politicians defending the status quo quoted from the Bible regarding a womans place, and warned that if such privileges were extended to women, the next thing you know, Blacks would demand the same thing! But the bill very nearly became law. The debates over Senate Bill 79 certainly exploded some of my preconceptions about Texas in 1885.
Regarding women, you paint a vivid portrait of the sculptor Elisabet Ney, who had once been famous in Europe but in 1885 was living in obscurity in a Texas backwater the locals called Six-Shooter Junction. Was she a real person?
Very real. Elisabet Ney is fairly well-known in the Texas because she was the states first world-class artist she sculpted Sam Houston and Steven F. Austin for the State Capitol. Before she came to Texas, she was in great demand in Europe, where she sculpted some of the most famous men of the age, like Garibaldi and Bismarck and Ludwig the Mad. She plays a small but key role in the story.
There are some other startling details - a scandal over racism and police violence that might remind readers of the Rodney King incident, and an incident at the big trial toward the end of the book that has echoes of If it does not fit, you must acquit.
Again, these things came straight from the research. I wouldnt have dared to make them up!
A number of the Black characters encounter something called a dog ghost, which may or may not be a supernatural apparition. Where did that come from?
We dont know nearly as much as we should about the lives of Blacks in Texas at this time, but were very fortunate to have the research of a Black folklorist named J. Mason Brewer who taught at the University of Texas and who specialized in recording the oral folk tales of Blacks in Texas. The dog ghost figures largely in these tales it has the appearance of a dog and may be quite fearsome, but its usually the ghost of a departed loved one whos come back to help the living. And the Black people of Austin in 1885 need all the help they can get.
Your previous novels have all been set in ancient Rome. What was it like to change your focus to Austin, Texas, in 1885?
To be frank, at first I had misgivings. I felt Id become rather spoiled, working with the incredible material and larger-than-life figures who tower over the crumbling Roman Republic of the 1st Century B.C. Julius Caesar, Pompey, Cicero, Cleopatra. But as I delved deeper and deeper into the research, the story of the Servant Girl Annihilators and their victims loomed larger and larger to me, until it seemed truly epic. And yet we know so many intimate details about these people, how they lived and how they died. Sometimes the people in this book felt so close to me, I could almost touch them.