Chapelwood: The Borden Dispatches once again gives readers a glimpse into the intriguing life of one Lizzie Borden AKA Lizbeth Andrew. We pick up with Lizbeth some 30 years after the events that rocked Fall River, MA, or at least her home of Maplecroft. Her elder sister Emma has since passed away, as has dear Dr. Owen Seabury, who slowly slipped into a sea of madness after the showdown. Lizbeth now lives alone at Maplecroft, a spinster surrounded by a veritable sea of cats who have made their home there. She spends her time reading newspapers she has shipped in from around the country, all containing articles of strange happenings. Some recent axe murders in Birmingham, AL naturally catch her eye.
These murders have also been called to the attention of Inspector Simon Wolf of the "Quiet Society" in Boston, MA, who also participated in the events at Maplecroft. It turns out an old friend named Father James Coyle had written several letters asking for Wolf's help regarding a suspicious "church" named Chapelwood and its odd interest in a young woman named Ruth Stephenson, then Gussman after Father Coyle facilitates a marriage so she can escape the clutches of her father, a member of Chapelwood. Sadly, since Wolf was out on assignment, he receives the letters too late to protect Father Coyle. Sensing more than a simple cult and some racially-motivated axe murders, he calls upon his old friend Lizbeth to assist and she readily agrees, especially when he tells her that he's come across a drawing related to the case - a drawing clearly of Nance O'Neil, her lover who vanished some 30 years before.
The pair meet Ruth, who is a strong girl ready to testify against her father in the murder of Father Coyle, and she is also not afraid to stand up to the newly elected politicians in town, who are inextricably intertwined with Chapelwood, the Ku Klux Klan and a racist group calling themselves the "True Americans." The trio enlist the assistance of ousted City Commission President George Ward and former Police Chief Eagan, and determine to get to the bottom of the murders and the true intentions of Chapelwood and its Reverend Davis.
Meanwhile, the murders by the newly dubbed "Harry the Hacker" range from Italian immigrants, to racially mixed couples, to even prostitutes, and while the newly elected officials seem none too motivated to solve them, Wolf and Lizbeth suspect something more is going on than appears. When Ruth is spirited to Chapelwood by her father, following one of her strange spells that render her very weak, but able to communicate with the recently departed, Wolf and Lizbeth realize that they must rescue the girl themselves, and failing to do so might result in more than their mere deaths, but the destruction of the entire world as they know it.
I'm not sure how I feel about Chapelwood: The Borden Dispatches. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, don't get me wrong, but the ending leaves me wondering where the series will go. I do hope it continues, as we've gotten more of a glimpse into Simon Wolf and his organization, but a 30 year jump between this book and Maplecroft seems an odd direction, especially when such a rich character as Lizbeth Andrew (Borden) was created and with so many possibilities for potential adventures using her specific skillset. I would love to see an offshoot where we get to learn about Simon Wolf's exploits either before the events from Maplecroft or after them leading up to Chapelwood: The Borden Dispatches and beyond. That being said, I don't want to relinquish Lizbeth or her adventures, and as bad-assed as she is, a 60+ year old woman can only do so much, even wielding a trusty axe.
Just like Maplecroft, Chapelwood: The Borden Dispatches's chapters are the writings, correspondence and journal entries of the major characters in the book, including Lizbeth, Wolf, George Ward and Chief Eagan, Father Coyle, Reverend Davis, and an accountant and former member of Chapelwood, Leonard Kincaid, among others. The group at Chapelwood focus on the celestial skies, mathematics and patterns, although there's a more than healthy hint that something briny and of the ocean is involved as well.
If you enjoyed Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches, you'll want to read Chapelwood: The Borden Dispatches as well, especially considering the overlap of characters and continuation of the story. Both of these books are the type that you immediately want to re-read, knowing how they end but wanting to pick up on the nuances you may have missed the first read through. I have definitely become a fan of author Cherie Priest and can't wait to see where she takes this cast of charming characters.