Cherie Priest takes on an infamous American crime with Maplecroft, the first in the new Borden Dispatches series. She plants the reader in Falls Church, Massachusetts as Lizzie and her sister Emma stubbornly remain, living down the infamy of Lizzie's trial following the murder of their father and stepmother. Lizzie still has her axe, everybody thinks she did it and an air of mystery surrounds the comings and goings of the two women in Maplecroft, their impressive home.
Then a whole bunch of monster killing happens and readers realize that whatever Lizzie Borden did or didn't do in real life is nothing compared to what Cherie Priest has decided to do with her in fiction.
Maplecroft keeps to many of the facts about Lizzie Borden's life: her father & stepmother were murdered by an axe, Lizzie was tried for the crimes and acquitted, no one ever found out what happened. Emma Borden was Lizzie's older sister and they both did remain in Falls River and moved into a house named Maplecroft after the trial. Also, the actress Nance O'Neil, who had a close (although never as clearly defined) relationship with Lizzie as portrayed in the novel, was also a real person.
Priest presents all of their stories from their perspectives, alternating the point-of-view throughout the narrative. Lizzie's commands most of the story, along with Nance and the fictional character of Dr. Owen Seabury, based on the real family doctor (who testified at Lizzie's trial), Dr. Seabury Bowen. Each of them inches closer to the startling truth of the horrors in Falls Church on their own as the the suspense builds and the characters find themselves in the most dreadful of circumstances.
Fictional Lizzie still has her axe and in this case is not afraid to use it (and for good reason). Her sister Emma is portrayed in the author's hands as a talented marine biologist, publishing her findings (as the times required) under a man's name. There is a sickness in Falls Church, a madness both of the mind and body, and the sisters approach it from two different directions: science and legend. Dr. Seabury seeks out his own answers through keen observation of the afflicted and his medical texts. Thrown together as the tension builds, they embark on a mad dash to find answers, all the while pursued by the stuff of nightmares.
Thank goodness Lizzie can swing that axe!
Maplecroft is great fun--it draws readers in with an almost Victorian pace at the beginning and then builds and builds as the heroes find themselves increasingly threatened. The characters are deeply written, full of flaws, tortured by their own inner doubts and achingly human. It is especially fun to read about Lizzie Borden and see her interacting with her sister and lover while struggling to be the hero that circumstance demands she must be.
This is a perfect autumn read; it will keep you on the edge of your seat, slight freak you out and totally conjure up images of "something wicked this way comes"!