ISBN 0684856816 - When I picked up a copy of this book, it was with the hope of selling it for a reasonable price. Usually, I curse the (insert bad word)s who ruin book prices by selling for a penny. In this case, I thank them! Unable to sell it, I thought I'd read it and am glad I did.
Will Porter was living in Texas when one of America's earliest serial killers started killing. At first, the murders were of blacks, and the city seemed to care little about the loss of life. Porter's interest is at least in part because he is close friends with Dave Shoemaker, who covers the story for the papers. When the killings eventually take two white women in one night - including Porter's one love - the manhunt becomes more serious.
At the same time, the author tells the story of O. Henry - the name under which Will Porter writes, years later, in New York. He is being blackmailed, although who and why are not revealed; he is being hounded by editors that he's promised articles to, and he hasn't got them written. When he is approached by a man who claims to be a friend of a friend, when the man claims that their mutual friend has the answer to who the Servant Girl Annihilator was... Porter sheds O. Henry to go back to Texas for the answer.
While I'm glad I read this book, it's not because it's a great book. It's a good book, with an interesting fictional story that twines together two true stories. That twining together simply muddies up the line between fiction and reality and I think it did a disservice to both stories. Still, the book is well-written, manages to present some possible answers to unanswered questions and gives Porter a nice, clean reason for his embezzlement (which isn't a newly suggested reason, it's just more fleshed-out). I can't help but wonder how the descendants of Grooms Lee, a buffoon in both history and historical fiction, and Eula Phillips, painted a whore here at least, feel about the book. I found myself annoyed that Saylor had Elisabet Ney speaking like Yoda, but that's a small thing. I'd read something else from Saylor, if it was either fiction or non-fiction, but there's something in his style with historical fiction that I won't be seeking out again any time soon.
From the back cover - "Steven Saylor...blends real-life characters and meticulous historical research into a chilling fictional narrative about America's first recorded serial killings and one of [America's] most celebrated short story writers, O. Henry. And just like O. Henry's famous denouements, [this] novel promises to deliver 'A Twist At the End'."
This is my first Saylor book and I think he is a brilliant writer!
1885 Texas, 7 women are killed,including Will Porters lover. Ten years later finds Will living in New York as O. Henry who can't escape his memeries or blackmail letters inviting him to return to Texas to discover a path to his own tormented mind.