Fans of Erik Larson’s 2003 hit, The Devil in the White City, about a serial killer who operated against the backdrop of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, will find similar pleasures here. Mr. Hollandsworth doesn’t have the amount of raw material Mr. Larson did, and he doesn’t have a known villain. But if you don’t mind turning the last page without knowing who done it, this is true crime of high quality.
[Hollandsworth] does a fine job of setting the crimes in the context of a growing metropolis in the midst of an economic boom. The crime scenes drew carnival-size crowds. Mule-driven streetcars delivered sightseers to the murder sites. Giant electric arc lamps were erected to illuminate main streets with (it was hoped) crime-deterring glare ... until the publication of this absorbing work, the Midnight Assassin achieved only obscurity. 'It was as if he had walked out of history altogether,' concludes Mr. Hollandsworth. 'It was as if he had never existed.'
The Midnight Assassin captures the lawlessness and ribaldry of frontier life—you can almost hear the tinny piano, the laughter, the squeals, the breaking glass and boot heels on wooden planks as a saloon fistfight spills into the street ... The Midnight Assassin would have benefited from even more mining of these rich lodes of racial politics and white paranoia, and a bit more intensive sociological analysis. Hollandsworth may have decided, however, that this was more than the average reader of a popular murder mystery had bargained for. Despite this modest deficit, Hollandsworth has delivered — for lovers of true crime stories, American history, and under-appreciated Texana — an irresistible spellbinder.
Hollandsworth declares flat-out that he failed to unmask the monster. But for readers who love the tangle of history, mystery and skilled storytelling — and who possess a strong stomach for the gruesome — joining his quest is a treat. He hunts down obscure public records, news accounts, shirttail relatives, the rare letter and photograph. The annotations cataloging his search are a delicious detective story unto themselves.
Hollandsworth spent more than decade pulling this tale together and shows himself to be a master storyteller working at the top of his form ... Though a tale of serial murder, this also unfolds as a story of the city itself.