HI, SAYLOR Austin’s grisly past.
IN AUSTIN IN 1885 the talk of the town was the series of unsolved ax murders of eight people — most of them maids or young mothers — by unknown fiends who were dubbed the Servant Girl Annihilators. Today Steven Saylor’s fictional take on the crimes has generated its own local buzz. How could it not? Besides ticking off titillating details of the deaths, the author casts as his protagonist a real Austin resident of the day, William Sydney Porter, a then anonymous layabout who would later serve time before achieving fame as the short-story writer O. Henry. Saylor throws in bits of history, such as the dog ghosts of African American folklore, and peoples the plot with specifically Texan tidbits, like the personal habits of sculptress Elisabet Ney. But ultimately A Twist at the End comes unwound. The murders are given disappointingly short shrift, and Saylor’s solution is uninspired. Whither poetic license? Ultimately, the novel fails to live up to its name. Today the O. Henry-style surprise ending is standard, and readers expect no less. by Anne Dingus