In Maplecroft, Cherie Priest, best known for her Boneshaker steampunk books, uses the infamous Lizzie Borden murders to tell a deliciously creepy, truly Lovecraftian story of horror. Set in Fall River, MA, Lizzie Border and her invalid sister Emma are trying to live a quiet life out of public eye after Lizzie’s very public trial for the murder of her father and step-mother. Although she was acquitted in the eyes of the law, public sentiment disagrees and she and her sister are the town’s pariahs. Only the good doctor Owen Seabury remains on friendly terms, as he sees to Emma’s health on a regular basis.
Emma and Lizzie share a dark secret, one that threatens to overwhelm them and everyone in their town. When people start to fall prey to a mysterious illness, with symptoms the sisters and the doctor have seen before, will they be able to overcome their silence and save those they hold most dear, or will an unnamed threat from the sea conquer the sisters and their sleepy little town?
Multiple perspectives allow for a wider view of what’s going on in Fall River and later, the wider countryside. The novel feels like found documentation at times, and Dr. Seabury at least is keeping his record of the events for posterity’s sake. The focus however, is kept tightly to the sisters and those in direct contact with them. There are a few excerpts from left field and it would have been interesting to see the events from the perspective of some of Fall River’s other residents as events reached their thunderous conclusions.
The term “Lovecraftian” seems to get attached to anything that is remotely weird and involves the sea, often with no reason for it to be attached (see Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum, which was a hot mess). Yet there was no mention of Lovecraft anywhere in the blurbs on the book, which I found surprising. I’ve read enough Lovecraft to know generally what his particular brand of horror is about and Maplecroft fits the bill. Mysterious illnesses, weird creatures lurking in the night, an unnamed terror from the sea, science reaching its limits of understanding – it’s all there. I finished the book very late at night with the windows wide open to the darkness beyond. At one point, I had to get up and close the windows and draw the blinds as the book’s creepiness sunk deep into my psyche. Priest’s brand of horror may not be for everyone, the same was Lovecraft isn’t for everyone. I, however, loved this deliciously creepy and hair-raising read. As it seems to be the first in a series, I look forward to more of the Borden dispatches.