“Schmidt is especially good at the sweltering claustrophobia in which the Bordens lived. She is also great at portraying the pent-up frustration of the spinster Borden sisters.”



I do love books that take actual events and weave a story around them. Bring characters to life that you only know the very best or very worst about.

In this case Sarah Schmidt takes the infamous Lizzie Borden: accused of axing her father and step-mother to death, she was then acquitted, but still remained the prime suspect.

Most people are familiar with the old, rather gruesome, schoolyard rhyme:

“Lizzie Borden took an axe,
and gave her mother forty whacks,
when she saw what she had done,
she gave her father forty one.”

This book is told from four viewpoints; Lizzie, her sister Emma, the maid Bridget and Benjamin, who gives an outsider’s perspective.

Lizzie’s voice is childlike, coming across as whiny and selfish and sounding much younger than her 30+ years. The relationship with her sister Emma is completely unhealthy; Lizzie is needy and dependent and Emma is staying at relatives to give herself much needed distance.

The whole family exists in a state of disfunctionality and Sarah Schmidt’s writing is engrossing, bringing out the mistrust and perceived slights between the family members. The whole atmosphere of the Borden household is claustrophobic and brooding in the extreme. This is not helped by being inside Lizzie’s head, a disturbing and unsettling place to be and we are soon glad of the differing viewpoints.

The book is awash with sensory overload; the descriptions of taste and smell leave a disgusting taste in your mouth: the rancid mutton stew, the sickness, Lizzie’s need to wallow in the blood and gore as she tries to come to terms with the fact that her father is dead.

Lizzie was put on trial for the murders but was acquitted for no better reason than the jury did not believe that a woman was capable of committing such a crime. Sarah Schmidt tells Lizzie’s side of the story and you can make your own mind up, there are other possibilities and the different viewpoints are fascinating.

This is a completely compelling read and if you enjoy true-life historical drama you are probably going to enjoy this.

Highly recommended.


Reviewed by:

Sandra Foy, Urmston Bookshop

Added 6th May 2017

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Sandra Foy