Acclaimed journalist Skip Hollandsworth delves into a bloody chapter of Texas history with a fascinating account of a killer who eluded authorities and terrorized the state’s capital city.
Welcome to “Reading Roundup,” a recurring C&I online feature in which we highlight a book that has captured our attention. Featured volumes might be new, classic, or recently reissued, or they may somehow tie in to current events or the season. For this entry, we take a look at Skip Hollandsworth’s The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer.
The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer
By Skip Hollandsworth
Genre: History, True Crime
First edition April 5, 2016. Paperback April 11, 2017
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
What it’s about
Three years before the Jack the Ripper slayings, a killer terrorized Austin, Texas, with a series of brutal attacks, mutilating women of all races and backgrounds and sending the rapidly modernizing western town into panic.
Why it’s worth a read
It’s Halloween season, and what better way could a Western history-loving reader experience some chills than with the true story of a twisted serial killer who terrified Texans? Scarier still, the killer was never caught — and some believed he carried on his horrible butchery in the impoverished Whitechapel area of London three years later. The story is richly told by Skip Hollandsworth, an award-winning magazine writer whose 1998 Texas Monthly article “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” was the basis for Richard Linklater’s 2011 black comedy Bernie.
But The Midnight Assassin is more than just an unsolved murder mystery. The book paints Austin, Texas, in such fine detail that you can feel the chill of the uncommonly cold 1884 – 85 winter to your bones and imagine the crackling excitement in the air as an ambitious mayor endeavors to turn this formerly sleepy town into a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city. Your stomach may even turn along with those of the cynical hard-drinking reporters who are unable to look at the victims’ mangled bodies. The book puts the history of the city in perspective, zooming out to how it represented the newly prosperous, post-Reconstruction state in the era when the phrase “everything is bigger in Texas” was likely coined. A darker side of the time and place is shown at times, such as when a badly wounded black man who survived an attack is refused help from a doctor and when investigators brush off a black child witness’ suggestion that the killer he saw was white. Hollandsworth masterfully evokes the fear and suspense Austinites must have felt.
Filled with vivid historical detail, The Midnight Assassin is a fascinating, horrifying page-turner that will thrill readers of true crime, history, mystery, and great storytelling journalism.