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The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer

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3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  1,699 Ratings  ·  281 Reviews
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 diabolica
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Hardcover, 321 pages
Published April 5th 2016 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Community Reviews

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Heather
Feb 18, 2016 Heather rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Well-written and researched, this true crime mystery is right up there with the best of Erik Larson. This lesser known crime spree is well deserving of more attention and Skip Hollandsworth does it a great justice. The pacing was spot on and the world was expanded enough so the reader feels that nothing is left out yet didn't feel lost in a sea of characters and side-road theories.

Also, I must say, I love how this ebook is formatted. I've never commented on the formatting of an ebook before, bu
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Linda O'Donnell F.
Apr 10, 2016 Linda O'Donnell F. rated it really liked it
I received a copy of The Midnight Assassin from NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Henry Holt and Company for fulfilling my wish list. Thanks to Skip Hollandsworth for the opportunity.

"A killer who gives to history a new story of crime."

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the events of a serial killer on the loose in the early years of the city of Austin, Texas. The term "serial killer" wasn't in anyone's vocabulary at the time. More shockingly, what took place in Austin was three years be
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Darcia Helle
Mar 24, 2016 Darcia Helle rated it it was amazing
I had never heard of the "Midnight Assassin", and had no idea that a serial killer terrorized Texas before Jack the Ripper terrorized London. I'm intrigued by historical crime, so I was immediately drawn to this book. It's a fascinating read that kept me fully engaged.

Clearly, the author put an immense amount of time and effort into research. While we are immersed in detail, I never felt overwhelmed by it all. And, most importantly, the detail never outweighed the story. This is an easy book to
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Amy Sturgis
Skip Hollandsworth provides a thorough and fascinating account of the unsolved murders of women (of different ages, races, and economic/social positions) that took place in 1884-1885 in the burgeoning city of Austin, Texas. The horrific crimes shocked not only the region but also the world. The Midnight Assassin reveals how these killings affected not only the physical face of Austin but also the political realities of the state, making and breaking careers and reputations. Furthermore, the auth ...more
Carol
Tragic yet Captivating

Extending my thanks to Netgalley and Henry Holt & Co. for providing this e-galley for my honest review.

I’m not going to debate what sparks our fascination with serial killers. I just know it is so. The Midnight Assassin is a must for true crime lovers. It’s helpful that it delves into an old case, removing it from our immediate consciousness. In December 1884, a person or persons killed several black women, one just a child and possibly three white women, in Austin, T
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Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
Loved this book! I read it entirely in the space of 24 hours, couldn't put it down. The extent of Hollandworth's research is impressive. What I found just as fascinating as the details of the crimes were the period details that brought to life the mind-set of the people of Austin, how they thought and felt and acted as they tried to go about their daily lives amidst the terror of the murders. I also learned a lot about the history of Texas.

Do I think that the Servant Girl Murderer was Jack the
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Ctgt
May 25, 2016 Ctgt rated it liked it
Interesting book about a series of killings in Austin in the late 1800's. I was hoping for something similar to The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America but it never rose to that level. The killer or killers were never caught so there is a mystery left unanswered but the attempt to tie these killings in to the subsequent Ripper murders in England seemed fairly far-fetched.

6/10
Aaron Bellamy
Apr 17, 2016 Aaron Bellamy rated it did not like it
Shelves: true-crime
I'll admit a few things here to start. 1) Yes, I read Devil in the White City and I liked it. Was it perfect? No. The White City part of the story fascinated me. The Devil part of the story I thought was much weaker. 2) I am from and live in Texas. 3) My wife was born and raised in Austin. So, what do these admissions tell you? The tell you the power of marketing. I got this book on day one. You can probably piece together why yourself. So, why didn't this work where 'Devil' mostly did? I have ...more
Margaret Sankey
Mar 30, 2016 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
The cover design is no fluke--this book is counting on you to want more Larsen style history like Devil in the White City. In this case, Hollandsworth reconstructs a year of terror (1885) in Austin, TX, riding high on the cotton boom and Jim Crow, when a never-caught serial killer killed women at the full moon. Very much like the later Jack the Ripper killings, this was ignored early because of the status of the first victims (black servant women), pinned on transients and the usual criminal ...more
Kirsti
This book taught me some new words:
Hello Girl: a female telephone operator

moll buzzer: a pickpocket who specializes in robbing women

calaboose: a prison (from the Spanish calabozo, meaning dungeon)

onion sociable: a party in which several young ladies go into a bedroom, one of them takes a bite out of an onion, and then they all go into a parlor and get kissed by a young man who tries to guess who has onion breath

boob gun: a small firearm that a woman can conceal within a corset or attach to a gar
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Terri Wino
Apr 17, 2016 Terri Wino rated it liked it
I really expected to enjoy this book more than I did, being that The Devil in the White City is one of my favorite books. I thought this book would have a similar tone. It is definitely an interesting story about a little-known event, and I also liked learning about the "birth" and development of Austin, Texas. Unfortunately, for me, the style of writing was just so matter-of-fact and dry that I felt I was reading a documentary outline.
So this one was just good, not great, in my opinion.


(2016 r
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Julie
Jun 08, 2016 Julie rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobooks
Skip Hollandsworth often has amazing articles in Texas Monthly. Sadly, this book was not as good. There was a ton of filler, facts he'd found while researching the murders. But they just didn't have much to do with the actual crimes. And there's no resolution to any of them. No one has a clue. So it just felt meaningless.
Ariel
Jan 26, 2016 Ariel rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-crime
This was a very well researched book considering that the records the author had to use were very old. The book tells the story of a serial killer, possibly Americas first, that terrorized Austin Texas between 1884 and 1885. The main victims were servant girls who were gruesomely struck down with an ax. I recently helped my daughter study for her American history test so I had just reviewed the events surrounding the history of Texas. It was interesting to read about how far Austin had come in a ...more
Tony
Jun 22, 2016 Tony rated it it was ok
THE MIDNIGHT ASSASSIN. (2015). Skip Hollandsworth. **.
Try as I might, I could not get through this book. I kept nodding off after every two-to-three pages. It was about the first serial killer in the U.S., who managed to keep Austin, TX in fear for several years during the 1880s. They never caught the killer who preyed on (mostly) young black women who worked as domestic help. The author tries to maintain some sort of tension by spacing out the brutal killings, but it’s not enough to have kept m
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Carrie Waibel
Jun 14, 2016 Carrie Waibel rated it it was amazing
This book was so good! I was totally caught up in learning more about the U.S.'s first serial killer and admittedly got kind of scared reading this (look, he murdered ladies, okay). Well researched but easy to read.
RB
Oct 16, 2016 RB rated it liked it
"The Midnight Assassin" is a perfectly enjoyable and admirably well researched read that failed in a very promising setup to actually captivate the reader with more than characters that come and go and banal assertions about the killer (ie. he was, "brilliant" - it doesn't take the writer of Forrest Gump to commit these insidious and sick killings, seems someone has been watching too many police procedurals on network television, and not of the David Milch penned gems) in a fascinating world of ...more
John
Feb 23, 2016 John rated it really liked it
Historical true crime books that are about crimes 100 or more years old often suffer from a central difficulty: the witnesses, the suspects, and investigators have passed on. In some cases, files and reports have gone with them. This is clear with perhaps the most famous unsolved historic crime of all: Jack the Ripper. There are so many theories and suspects in the killing that it has spawned a virtual industry churning out book after book, some claiming to have positively identified the ...more
David Oskutis
Sep 27, 2016 David Oskutis rated it liked it
I enjoyed parts of this book...and I disliked other parts. As a fan of history, I was fascinated with some of the historical context of what was happening in and around Austin at the time of the "Midnight Assassin", however, I felt those parts read more like a history book than a novel detailing gruesome murders, especially when the murders have come so close to the Jack the Ripper murders (and could be linked, according to some) and with the success of Devil in the White City (which took place ...more
Chelsea
More reviews are available on my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.

I adore crime shows. Law and Order (the original one, with McCoy!) is amazing, and is Bones, and then, of course, there is the best of them all: Criminal Minds. (NCIS and all of its spin-offs are terrible. Do not talk to me about them.) Criminal Minds focuses specifically on serial killers, a group of murderers which is both terrifying and fascinating. Of course, in Criminal Minds they always get their man in the end, but in real lif
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Michelle Lancaster
Apr 11, 2016 Michelle Lancaster rated it really liked it
TEXAS HISTORY/TRUE CRIME
Skip Hollandsworth
The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer
Henry Holt, 978-0-8050-9762-2, hardback (also available as an ebook and on Audible), 336 pgs., $30.00
April 5, 2016


Austin, Texas, in December 1884 was a rapidly growing modern city with 230 students enrolled at a brand-new university, a new pink granite state capitol under construction, an opera house, and a roller coaster. Prosperous gentlemen wore frock coats and ladies
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Eric Means
Apr 21, 2016 Eric Means rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, want-recs
I enjoyed this book, not so much for the description of the crimes and the detective work as for the descriptions of 1880s Austin. Learning about the early history of what was, when I lived there, already a major technological hub and large city, was really fascinating (especially the history of the light towers).

In the end I knocked a star off because to be honest there isn't really a lot of "meat" to the crime story itself; there are descriptions of the victims and the crime scenes, and the ac
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Danielle
Jun 27, 2016 Danielle rated it really liked it
I picked up this book mostly as an admirer of Skip Hollandsworth's writing--he's published many remarkable longform pieces in the pages of Texas Monthly and is a captivating storyteller. The subject matter didn't hurt either. As a fan of true crime writing, this was a match made in heaven for me.

Hollandsworth takes us through the events of a series of grisly murders--committed by axe and mostly against women--that took place in Austin, Texas during the 1880's. The killer begins as a "servant gir
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Ronald Roseborough
This is a real rip snorter from start to finish. After reading this I thought, no wonder so many Texans are packing, and we’re not talking about their luggage. I’m not sure being first out of the chute with the world’s first serial killer is a prize worth winning, but this no holds barred story is. In this deeply researched book, the author bares not only the known facts of the crimes, but also the personalities of the people populating Austin, Texas in the late 1880’s. At a time years before ...more
Kristy
May 15, 2016 Kristy rated it it was amazing
If you like true crime, history, archives, or the city of Austin, this book is going to scratch you where you didn't even know you itched. I'm pretty familiar with the story of the Midnight Assassin aka The Servant Girl Annihilator, the perpetrator of a series of brutal murders of women in Austin in the 1880s, but Hollandsworth brings a richness and humanity to the familiar story. Through his meticulous research, the author gives the reader a full picture of the just-blossoming Austin of the ...more
Jim
Jul 12, 2016 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Anna Geismar
May 17, 2016 Anna Geismar rated it liked it
Having been raised in Austin, I've always known about the serial killer that led the city to install moon towers, but never knew much detail. It is great to have this book as a resource to learn more about the story. Unfortunately, I think the author missed the opportunity to turn this into a really compelling read -- it felt like he just compiled all the notes from his research and didn't try to create a strong narrative. I know he didn't have many facts to work with, but I was really looking ...more
Billie
Aug 29, 2016 Billie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
I can really see where all the comparisons come in between this and Devil in the White City. I have read most of Larson's books and other than Devil, this surpasses them all in readability, storyline, characterization, and plot.

While it's hard to review non-fiction, this was an easy, quick read and from it, I learned a lot about Austin's history and the history of America's first real serial killer. Surprisingly, I'd bet most readers have not even heard of the Midnight Assassin - or of him under
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Rebecca Rolfes
Apr 27, 2016 Rebecca Rolfes rated it did not like it
Hollandsworth is an experienced journalist who should know better. This is what journalists call "emptying the notebook." He spent years researching this book and wants to make sure that every single, solitary thing he learned, you will learn too. He has literally emptied his notebook onto the page. Chapters two and three are such long historical digressions that you keep wondering if he'll ever get back to the murders. The problem is, there is very little known about the murders or the murderer ...more
Nick Scott
Jun 07, 2016 Nick Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well told, interesting story about the almost forgotten first recorded serial killer in American history that terrorized Austin in the late 1800s. Forgotten, at least in part, because they never caught him, and no one has any clue as to the killer's identity. Still, it was the killer that led to the city's historial "moon towers" and (at least in part) to the formation of Lady Bird/Town Lake, though almost no one realizes that. The ending is a let down, but to no fault of Skip Hollandsworth, ...more
Ashley Blanchette
Apr 14, 2016 Ashley Blanchette rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Skip Hollandsworth is an award-winning journalist, screenwriter, and executive editor of Texas Monthly magazine. His work was included in the 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2010 editions of Best American Crime Writing and he has won a National Magazine Award for feature writing. Hollandsworth co-wrote the acclaimed screenplay "Bernie" with director Richard Linklater. He lives in Texas with his wife
More about Skip Hollandsworth...

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