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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Lizzie Borden
by Elizabeth Engstrom
Tor/pp. 342/ $14.95
ISBN 0-312-86154-0

Once in a while a publisher does something right. Forge, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. (better known for its primarily SF and fantasy imprint, Tor,) has done something precisely correct by reissuing Elizabeth Engstrom's 1991 Lizzie Borden in a handsome trade paperback.

Engstrom takes the legendary mayhem of the Fall River murder mystery and turns it into a brilliantly dark revelation of human psychology. She skillfully reveals, chapter by chapter, the secrets of the deeply dysfunctional Borden family by adroitly switching the narrative's point of view from one member of the household to another. We see reality through each pair of disturbed eyes and spiral deeper and deeper into what becomes inevitable tragedy.

Within a well-drawn and accurate historical context, Engstrom imaginatively reinterprets the fetid Borden family though a "modern" psychological plot, explaining events and motivation in terms of individual psychoses and hidden sexuality. The author also allows the stench of real evil, perhaps even supernatural evil, to permeate her rationale. Her characters -- Lizzie, her sister Emma, their father Andrew and stepmother Abby -- aren't just lost in a mental miasma, but sick to their very souls.

Engstrom has proven time and again that she is a masterful and intelligent writer. Her convincing characterization and taut plotting combine to produce that atmosphere of fear that Lovecraft told us was the essence of horror. Impending violence weighs heavy in the air of Lizzie Borden, air heavy with the sweat of nightmares, the reek of blood, the stale perfume of secrets and despair. You seldom get a second chance in life -- even your reading life -- so take this one. Lizzie Borden is not to be missed. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.