Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest

Maplecroft Book Cover Maplecroft
The Borden Dispatches #1
Cherie Priest
Fantasy, Horror
Roc Trade
2nd September 2014

I knew I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw the description. The story about Lizzie Borden (and her axe) merged with, oh, Lovecraftian horrors? Sold!   Despite not being terribly fond of my previous encounter with the author (I thought Boneshaker had a cool cover, but was... evidently very forgettable, because I can't remember anything of it).

And despite this: I really do not enjoy reading H.P. Lovecraft's own works.  I've been through some of it and hope never to trick myself into trying to read more of it. Not for the content, just, well, my life is probably not long enough to cope with that level of flowery prose.

So it's strange, and delightful, how much I enjoy stories inspired by Lovecraft.  Some of my favourites are Charles Stross' The Laundry novels,  where magic is sort of a branch of applied mathematics and unfortunate programmers may end up summoning terrible things entirely by accident.   That's not the case at Maplecroft, which is the house where Lizzie Borden and her poorly sister reside, somewhat sequestered from the rest of the town of Fall River,  as the general public is not quite convinced that Lizzie was truly innocent of brutally murdering her parents with an axe, a couple of years earlier.

And, well, she wasn't. Except they were really not her parents, at the time. Things had progressed much too far already.   The bloated,  shark-white skin,   the unblinking eyes...

Maplecroft is a house full of secrets, though most of them are hidden in the basement,  along with a huge laboratory.   Lizzie is the one doing most of the research, in her somewhat inexpert way,  though her sister is the quite brilliant marine biology enthusiast who thinks and writes like a proper scientist - under a proper scientist's name, of course. A man's name.

The two of them are not enough, though.  They can't learn enough about the threat the town is facing,  only just enough to be terrified.

The story is told from various view points, journals, letters, articles and telegrams,  and the style of prose does a good job of setting the mood.  (And that mood is, mostly, slowly descending into madness.) Some might accuse it of being long-winded, but I think it works very well.  (And I don't have infinite patience for long-windedness, as already stated.)    Towards the end there is a breakthrough I did not expect, by which I don't mean it comes out of the blue,  it's just a way of thinking of the fish people trope I haven't really seen before, and I like it a lot.

Would recommend as a fun horror read to the kind of people who are apt to describe horror as fun.  Or any of those people in your life who talk about tentacles more than they should.

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