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.
And now for something completely American from the author of the highly successful tales of Roman sleuth Gordianus the Finder (Rubicon, 1999, etc.): a ponderous tale based on a real-life Texas murder case. In 1906, New York author O. Henry, n William Sydney Porter, is one of the best-known writers in the world. But hes being blackmailed over a secret more than 20 years olda secret going back even further than his embezzlement conviction in Austin. When a mysterious old man brings him a letter promising to identify the killer of a number of young women back in 1884 and 1885, the author agrees to accompany the emissary on a trip to Texas. Along the way, a series of long flashbacks recount the story of the Servant Girl Annihilators, as Will Porter himself had whimsically dubbed whoever killed the women beginning with mulatto housekeeper Mollie Smith. Interwoven with the story of these monstrous brutalities are several other strands: the halfhearted attempts by incompetent and corrupt authorities to stem what initially looks like a tide of sexual violence directed exclusively at women of color; the fate of the Female Clerks Bill, which provoked brief but lively discussion about the rights of women to enter the workplace; and the tale of Wills hopeless infatuation with Eula Phillips, unhappily but incontrovertibly married to a well-born drunk. Saylor is so generous in presenting every detail of these (mostly factual) subplots that few of his characters get much chance to shine; even Will himself is upstaged by the miscreants who can be most broadly drawn. Worse, the account, despite the promise of its title, keeps few surprises in reserve. A conscientious historical reconstruction that still packs less punch than any number of its literary heros own ten-page anecdotes. -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.