Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth

The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Goodreads Summary: 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.
Rating: 3 Stars
Review: 
A mysterious killer slipping around murdering women at night, scandalous arrests and gossiping neighbours? A story which has been buried, all traces removed from the histories of Austin, Texas. The Midnight Assassin brings this tale back to life through extensive research and some imagination, telling us of Austin citizens' lives in these turbulent times.

The beginning is good, but it just went downhill after that. More and more characters were introduced, eventually becoming a difficult feat to remember every character and his/her role in this society. The style in which this book is crafted is not what I expected and a huge contrast from my normal reading material. It's a book about a mystery, but not written in the way of a mystery/thriller novel, rather the style you'd find in a historian's novel.

After finishing the book I finally realised that all these characters I was having trouble remembering, they all had a part to play and Skip Hollandsworth only introduces the ones that have something write about them, though there are many such characters. All of this said, I still believe The Midnight Assassin could've been written in a much more exciting and upbeat way, and can't help wondering how different the same book could be if written more like a modern mystery/thriller.

One thing this book did tell me is what customs and thoughts of people in 1800s, Austin. Quick to blame the blacks for any crime, trusting bloodhounds to sniff after trails with such bewilderment when they found none, and of course the rather childish legal courts and detectives. A time when there was nowhere near as much forensic equipment to aid police in solving murders.

The sheer mystery of this tale never ceases to amaze me, the question of who did it marks a gap not even writing can fill. I think the main reason I didn't enjoy The Midnight Assassin more is because the story is because the story itself isn't set in stone, it's predominantly speculation and a retelling of lives, guessing at the murder using evidence.
Purchase Location: Borrowed From Library
Edition:
 Hardcover
Buy the book:
Book Depository
Recommended for: Fans of history books.

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