Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Most of us are familiar, to some degree, with the story of Lizzie Borden. Though Lizzie was the primary suspect in her father and stepmother’s murders, the events surrounding the day of the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden were debatable, the police investigation was full of careless mistakes, and Lizzie’s testimony was riddled with inconsistencies. This leaves plenty of room for speculation, theories, and the penning of a novel that presents an alternate explanation for the Borden murders. Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, the upcoming novel by C.A. Verstraete explores one such hypothesis. What if there was more to the story than an angry daughter killing in cold blood? Maybe Lizzie knew something few others did, and taking the lives of her stepmother and father was the only way to protect herself and prevent being infected with a horrible, mutilating “sickness.”
Based on historical details and reports from newspapers of the time, Verstraete has incorporated much factual information from 1892-1893 when the Borden murders and Lizzie’s inquisition and trial took place. Many of the characters in the novel are actual players in Lizzie’s life, and the general timeframe and unfolding of events remains correct. However, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter does take some liberties in tweaking and developing some of the character relationships, while shifting focus from some of the strained relationships between Lizzie and certain family members. Many aspects and details in the story are accurate and are in the order they actually occurred; however, Verstraete does add in a number of fictional events. Most notably being the inclusion of zombies, as the title reveals.
Though the term “zombie” is not mentioned (aside from the title) until two thirds of the way through the book, the undead make an early appearance. Lizzie finds her stepmother, Abby, acting strangely at the beginning of the novel. Lizzie’s description of her appearance, actions, and the scene found in the bedroom when checking in on her make it clear that things are not “right,” and Abby is a zombie. This leads to Lizzy’s murdering her in an act of self defense--if you can call it murder when the victim’s already dead! When Lizzy encounters her father shortly after, it’s clear he’s afflicted the same way as his (doubly) late wife. From there, Verstraete’s novel reveals a growing undead population, which a society of zombie hunters is working hard to keep covered up. As Lizzie works with the defense for her trial, she becomes familiar with the society’s work. Lizzie’s older sister Emma remains a steadfast ally through the trial, and she also becomes involved in the zombie fighting. Both sisters dig through mountains of paperwork and follow a trail through all parts of the city to uncover their father’s secret business dealings in hopes of discovering what happened to their father and stepmother. Lizzie and Emma uncover some of their Father’s secret, nefarious business operations, and find out that the truth is much more gruesome than they had imagined. Both sisters end up paying a steep price for uncovering the truth.
While Verstraete crafted a good story based on historic events, there were some areas of the novel that could use more detail and fleshing out. I found several instances where I felt the story had some jumps, or required the reader to make assumptions, in order to fill in gaps. Several times, characters “disappeared” from the novel without any notice, or were suddenly and inexplicably absent from a scene, when it seems they should’ve been there (or it should be mentioned as to why they were not). I remain puzzled about the time Lizzie et al spent searching for a character named Adelaide, when in the end, it did not seem to add much to the story; additionally, it was not clear how the Adelaide they found was the person they were seeking. Another example of one of these “gaps” has to do with Lizzie’s understanding of zombies. Though she knows she is dealing with a sickness, before she fully understands what it is, Lizzie just knows that it’s transferrable by bite. I found myself getting hung up on some of these types of things, rereading sections to ensure I didn’t somehow miss crucial details.
Despite these issues, I still found myself moving pretty quickly through the book and wanting to find out what was going to happen next. I was rooting for Lizzie, an underdog character, who was also a super-strong female lead. What I appreciated the most about Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter was the historical fiction aspect. I enjoyed the inclusion of historical details in the novel, and I was pleased to reach the end of the book and find that Verstraete provides a fairly extensive resource list. There are websites, books, films, and more covering everything from the newspaper accounts of events to where Lizzie’s pets were buried. I took some time to check out a few links before writing my review of the book. Coming in at about 175 pages, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter is a nice, easy read. The novel is due out in August from Imajin Books, so add it to your end-of-summer reading list. It’s a nice combination of history and science fiction, with a healthy dose of zombies and gore. Verstraete also adds in some romance and a touch of suspense, so there’s a bit of something for everyone to appreciate!