Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Book Review: 'The Midnight Assassin' by Skip Hollandsworth

✰✰✰½ Most people have heard of the horrific murders in Victorian London carried out by Jack the Ripper. Few, however, have heard of the Midnight Assassin until now. Almost three years before the Ripper murders, the American city of Austin, Texas was terrorized by a series of brutal killings. The Midnight Assassin began his reign of terror by killing servants, most of whom were African American. This lead authorities to assume that the culprit must be African American as well. Nevertheless, eyewitness accounts varied. Some described a white attacker, while others described a black attacker. Meanwhile, servant women took to barricading themselves in at night. Before the killing spree would end, around a dozen suspects had been arrested.

As the holidays approached, an uneasy calm descended upon the city. That's when the Midnight Assassin attacked once again...on Christmas Eve. This time two white women were attacked. During this era law enforcement did not fully understand the ramifications of these events as the concept of a serial killer was unknown. Then just as abruptly as the killings started, they stopped. As life got back to normal in Austin, London began experiencing a series of gruesome murders. Investigators on both sides of the Atlantic would wonder if Jack the Ripper and the Midnight Assassin were the same person.

The Bottom Line: After a slow, detailed start with lots of background information, the pace quickly picked up speed. The mystery of the Midnight Assassin remains unsolved to this very day; yet, few outside the Austin, Texas area have ever heard of these brutal crimes. Written in a journalistic style, Hollandsworth takes the reader on a terrifying journey. Fans of true crime and American history will want to pick up a copy. Also, recommended for readers who enjoyed The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. This is a fascinating look at a little known event outside the Austin area, and visitors to the city can still see some of the changes the city made in the wake of these events (for example, the giant moonlight towers).

Note: This book includes vivid descriptions of the murders; thus, it is not suitable for sensitive readers.

Details: The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth. Published by Henry Holt & Company in 2016. 336 p. ISBN: 978-0-8050-9767-2 NOTE: I received an Advance Reader's copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

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