I’ve always been interested in the case of Lizzie Borden, a woman in Victorian Falls River, Massachusetts, who essentially got away with murder (at least as far as the legal system goes; she lived the rest of her life after her trial in isolation from her community). Probably you’re familiar with the general outlines of the case, at least from the doggerel: “Lizzie Borden took an ax/Gave her mother forty whacks/When she saw what she had done/Gave her father forty-one.” The thing that always intrigued me was the complete lack of motive. Granted, Lizzie and her sister were living in close quarters with their father and stepmother; granted, there were intrafamilial tensions; granted, the murder took place in the middle of a heat wave in a time without air conditioning and everybody was on edge. Still, these factors don’t explain why she, of all people, committed those crimes, of all possible crimes.
Which was why I was so delighted to read Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest, a novel that imagines what was REALLY going on in that house in Falls River before the crime. A short, flippant description of the book would be “Lizzie Borden meets up with H. P. Lovecraft monsters”, but that wouldn’t convey all the fun of the book. In this version of events, Lizzie had to kill her stepmother and father because they were turning into horrible monsters; she took action to save the town from an unbelievable evil, and the doctor who testified on her behalf at her trial had an inkling of what was really happening. The book is set years after the killings, when Lizzie and her sister, Emma, are living in a house they bought away from the center of town, and the evil Lizzie fought against before is gathering strength. The book is rife with strong and interesting characters, the plot zings along, the atmosphere is gothic without being over the top, and it is just a great fun read.
Why am I talking about this now? Because it turns out Maplecroft was the first in a series, and the second book, Chapelwood, is arriving at the library on September 1. You should probably read Maplecroft first (and obviously I would recommend it anyway because it was so much fun to read), but it’s not essential. Set in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1920’s, a place where a serial killer, nicknamed Harry the Hatchet, has been rampaging, the book brings Lizzie in conflict with a church which seems to be planning human sacrifice to bring about the return of the same evil Lizzie fought against in Maplecroft. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Lizzie’s adventures, especially if some of the same characters (including one very mysterious agent) from the first book return for this one.