Lizzie Borden, who now goes by the name Lizbeth Andrew Borden following the notoriety gained during her trial for the murder of her parents, has moved from her family home to an estate named Maplecroft with her older sister, Emma, to be far away from the prying eyes of the whispering town folk. Emma, a brilliant mind in the field of marine biology, goes by the moniker Dr. E.A. Jackson (again, because of the taint of the Borden name), publishing numerous papers and corresponding with fellow scientists who think she is a man, because such are the times. Emma, who is very ill and weak with consumption, must find ways to escape the trap of her body, and so she studies and she writes. Meanwhile, Lizbeth finds herself engaged in a dangerous battle with some form of evil that finds its way to Maplecroft on a regular basis; the same "thing" that took hold of her father and step-mother before their deaths at her hand. The only person in town that can be remotely trusted is Dr. Owen Seabury, the town's doctor and the only person to speak on Lizzie's behalf at her trial, as he saw an inkling of what the Borden elders were becoming not long before their demise.
As members of the community begin to fall ill of some strange malady that causes them to seek out the ocean and endanger those closest to them, Seabury teams up with Emma and Lizbeth, and little does he know that in the cellar below Maplecroft lurks an incredible laboratory for Lizbeth to conduct her "studies" and dispense with the remains of the dangerous creatures who seek her out.
Coincidentally, Dr. Phillip Zollicoffer, an East Coast marine biology professor and colleague/pen pal to Emma (as Dr. Jackson), becomes entangled when Emma unwittingly sends him a baffling marine specimen she thought he might find interesting; but the specimen is more than a mere sea creature - it is at the crux of everything happening in Fall River.
Worse yet, Lizbeth's flamboyant actress lover 10 years her junior, Nance O'Neil, has insisted on visiting Maplecroft and becomes more and more curious about the goings-on in Lizbeth's cellar, almost as if she is being called down there. Will the secret of Lizbeth's evening adventures get out, or worse yet, will Nance get in?
When Simon Wolf, an "inspector from Boston," becomes intrigued by the peculiar happenings at Fall River and begins working with Dr. Seabury to solve the mysteries, the pair naturally begin collaborating with the Borden sisters, who seem to be the resident experts on the crazy things at Fall River. Will the group be prepared for the dangerous behemoth that is murderously tearing its way across the Eastern seaboard in search of Maplecroft? You'll have to read Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches to find out.
Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches is brilliantly told through the writings of the various characters in the book, and thus, their personal perspectives. Whether it is in the letters between professional colleagues, the personal journals of the sisters and Nance, the memos being chronicled by the good Dr. Seabury, or the rantings of the insane taken hold by the sirens of the sea, each chapter in Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches unfolds to reveal a bit more of the dark and enveloping story. I especially enjoy the fact that most of the characters within the book are actual people from history, although some names have been modified. Sure, great creative license has been taken with their stories, but I love the distinct ring of truth and this story resonates delightfully.
If you are a fan of the fantastical, you will enjoy Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches. It is well written, interesting, scary, malevolent and utterly intriguing. Although this is the first Cherie Priest book I have read, it will not be the last. Put this one on your "to read" list immediately and look for our review of the sequel, Chapelwood: The Borden Dispatches coming very soon.