(Borden Dispatches #2)
In response to the first in this series, ‘Maplecroft,’ my friend wrote: “I assume, however, there’s a sequel because the big “Lizzie Borden vs. Cthulhu” build-up was not really satisfied. … I’m definitely looking forward to the next one.”
I have to reveal that this book might not really satisfy those looking for the Borden vs. Cthulhu Boss Fight, either.
Thirty years after the events of ‘Maplecroft,’ Lizzie Borden is living a life of quiet isolation, having outlived her sister and ‘lost’ her lover. [Again, Priest diverges from history: Emma Borden actually outlived her sister by about a week, although by that time, they had not spoken in twenty-two years. Nance O’Neil, rather than mysteriously disappearing, actually married, had a long career, and lived to the ripe old age of 90.]
Although things may be quiet in Fall River, something’s brewing down in Birmingham, Alabama, where a Reverend has founded a creepy holy roller church that, although ostensibly fundamentalist, may actually be contacting the Great Old Ones of the Lovecraftian mythos. Simultaneously, and possibly connected in some way to this church, a serial killer is applying weird equations to determine his kills.
The enigmatic Inspector Wolf, who was involved in the Borden affair thirty years earlier, gets involved when a friend of his, a Catholic priest, is murdered. Odd details bring Lizzie Borden to mind, and although he hasn’t spoken to her in all that time, he requests that she come down South as a consultant in this matter.
As a spooky serial killer murder mystery with a Lovecraftian edge, this book is perfectly good. I would say that the raison d’être for the story’s existence is to subversively put Lovecraft’s eldritch horrors on the same side as racists and the Klan, since Lovecraft himself was such a racist. (And that’s a really fun idea – I wholeheartedly approve.) However – there’s really no earthly (or unearthly) reason for Lizzie Borden to be in this story. She’s not even a main character. I mean, she’s portrayed as a helpful and competent character, but there’s no reason for it to be Lizzie Borden.
My main complaint with the first book was the lack of accurate details regarding historic Fall River. In this one, Priest moves the action out of Fall River, but some of the problems still persist. Some are small, as when Lizzie makes an a comment about the words “supper” and “dinner,” (“supper” is used in the south, but ALSO in the northeast – my grandmother, who lived in Fall River around the time period of this book, served “Sunday dinner” at noon, and ate “supper” as an evening meal) but some are more significant. One of the main themes of this book is the Klan’s (and their associates’) anti-Catholic sentiment. The Borden family were Congregationalists, but Fall River is and was a Catholic-majority community. Having lived there her whole life, one would think that Lizzie would find the bigoted religious attitudes odd, or notable, at least, as big change from what she was used to… especially given her fictional interest in comparative religions in this book… but she makes not one mention of any of that.
The main character of this story is, as I said, not Lizzie. It’s really Ruth Gussman, a young woman whose abusive father joins the worship community of Chapelwood – and who suspects that her father and the church have some kind of nefarious plans for her (and, of course, she is right.) In order to escape her father’s, and the Reverend’s clutches, she runs away and marries Pedro, an older, Catholic, Puerto Rican laborer who has previously done work for her family. Of course, he father is furious – and his anger launches the action.
That’s all good – but here is also one of the main flaws of this book. I don’t think Pedro even gets a speaking line in this book. Puerto Ricans in Birmingham? I don’t know anything about that! It’s interesting! Is there an immigrant community? What’s Pedro’s story? How’d he end up there? What’s his motivation and rationale behind agreeing to marry Ruth? We don’t know, at all. For a story with racism as a major theme, it’d be really nice to get to hear from the non-white character.
Still, there are plenty of murders, investigating, clues, and spooky occurrences. I loved Storage Room Six. And I can’t hate on Ax Action!
Many thanks to Roc and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.