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Literature / The Borden Dispatches

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Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave the Deep Ones forty whacks....

The Borden Dispatches are a series of horror novels by Cherie Priest, blending historical fact and Lovecraftian fiction.

March, 1893: Phillip Zollicoffer, professor of marine biology at Miskatonic University, receives an unusual specimen of sea jelly from the renowned but reclusive Dr. E.A. Jackson. Zollicoffer becomes obsessed with the specimen, his sanity quickly eroding until he is driven to an unspeakable act of bloody murder....

April, 1894: Lizzie Andrew Borden — yes, that Lizzie Borden — and her older sister Emma have purchased a rambling house near the sea called Maplecroft in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts. The sisters are shunned by the townsfolk, despite Lizzie's acquittal in the axe murders of their father and stepmother. As it turns out, Lizzie — or Lizbeth, as she prefers — did take an axe to Andrew Jackson Borden and Abigail Borden, but that's only half the story. A week before the murders, a sickness swept through the Borden household, slowly transforming Lizbeth's parents into flabby, waterlogged things without a trace of their former humanity.


Now the things from the sea are drawn to Maplecroft, and to the strange green bits of sea-glass that Lizbeth keeps locked in an iron box under the basement floorboards. Emma, wheelchair-bound and suffering from consumption, conducts cutting-edge scientific research in the field of marine biology under the name E.A. Jackson. Lizbeth's only happiness is found in infrequent visits from her actress lover, Nance O'Neil. Every night, Lizbeth patrols the grounds of the estate, hunting the fish-creatures that crawl up from the depths. Public opinion may be against her, but her axe is the only thing that seems to deal with the creatures permanently, and she may be the only thing standing between Fall River and the creeping madness from the deep....

Novels in the series include:

  • Maplecroft (published September 2014)
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  • Chapelwood (published September 2015)

This book series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Lizbeth, of course.
  • Agent Mulder: Inspector Wolf.
  • Amazonian Beauty: What Nance thinks of Lizbeth; she isn't tall, but she is very muscular as a result of hunting Deep Ones on a regular basis.
  • An Axe to Grind
  • Artistic License – History: Priest takes some liberties with historical events to better fit them into the narrative. Lizzie Borden and Nance O'Neil did not meet until 1904, for example, and the novel takes place in 1894.
  • Ax-Crazy. Zollicoffer.
  • Bigger Bad: Implied. Apparently, some eldritch creature resides off the coast of Massachusetts in the Atlantic and is able to corrupt humans who live near the shore or come into contact with one of its artifacts—the sea-glass, like the one Lizbeth's stepmother wore as a necklace. It is also what creates and directs the Deep Ones, and the "jelly" that the Bordens found and sent to Dr. Zollicoffer seems to be either its servant or a part of its physical body. Zollicoffer himself comes to believe that it is female and to call it "the Mother".
  • Bittersweet Ending: Maplecroft comes about a hair's breadth away from pulling a full-on Downer Ending. Lizbeth is stuck in a Heroic BSoD as a result of her failure to save Nance. Nance is fully aquatic and answers the call of the sea, presumably never to return. Dr. Seabury has gone insane. Emma leaves Maplecroft, mutual bitterness and resentment leaving her estranged from her sister, and her consumption has never been worse. And the elder god implied to be behind it all is still somewhere out there in the ocean, biding its time. All of this makes for a clear Sequel Hook, however, and we may see fortunes turn yet, as Zollicoffer's killing spree has been ended and Inspector Wolf might prove a future ally.
  • Broken Bird: Lizbeth.
  • Cold Iron: The only thing the creatures from the sea are vulnerable to. Lizbeth's axe has an iron head, and she pounds iron nails into every threshold in the house.
  • The Corruption: Claims Lizzie and Emma's stepmother and father before the events of Maplecroft, and many people during, including Nance.
  • Dying as Yourself: Nance tries to throw herself into the cooker to save Lizbeth, but it doesn't work.
  • Eldritch Abomination: See Bigger Bad.
  • Fish People: Basically the same type as the Deep Ones from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, though in this case they're humans mutated by The Corruption rather than the result of interbreeding with sea monsters.
  • Historical Domain Character: Several, including Lizbeth, Emma and Nance.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Lizzie Borden may or may not have murdered her parents in real life, but it's a near certainty that she did not hunt Lovecraftian horrors from the deep with an axe.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Downplayed in the case of Owen Seabury. He doesn't angst or proselytize, but it's clear that his war years and his career as a doctor have left him without faith in a higher power.
  • The Ingenue: Nance O'Neil.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Lizbeth and Nance.
  • Lovecraft Country: Fall River is smack in the middle of it, with Miskatonic University and Providence both within driving distance.
  • Lovecraft Lite: Zig-zagged, but ultimately more Lovecraft than Lite by the end of Maplecroft. See Bittersweet Ending.
  • Moustache de Plume: Emma uses one in order to publish her papers and have her research taken seriously by men who would not, if they knew her true identity.
  • Occult Detective: Inspector Wolf seems to be one. The ending implies that he works for an entire organization dedicated to investigating unusual cases.
  • Noble Bigot: Dr. Owen Seabury is a steadfast ally of the Bordens, but he's casually sexist and disapproves of Lizbeth and Nance's relationship. To be expected, given the setting and time period.
  • Sanity Slippage: Dr. Zolicoffer's slips quickly as a result of his contact with the specimen. Dr. Seabury's goes more slowly as the result of simple obsession with the problems in Fall River.
  • Sequel Hook: Many are set up in Maplecroft's final chapter.
  • Shout-Out: Lovecraft gets several, naturally.
  • Shown Their Work: Priest clearly did some research into Lizzie Borden's life and the circumstances surrounding the murders, working lesser-known events such as the violent illness that overtook the Bordens in the week preceding their deaths and Lizzie's close friendship (which was the subject of much gossip) with Nance O'Neil into the narrative.
  • The Spook: Inspector Wolf. No one knows anything about him, other than that he's "from Boston." At least he's an apparently benevolent spook.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Nance.
  • Triang Relations: Lizbeth finds herself in a type 7a triangle (that slowly transforms into a type 5), caught between her romantic relationship with Nance and having to care for her sick sister. As the problem escalates, she gradually comes to value the former over the latter... and, in a bitter irony, loses Nance to the Bigger Bad, while estranging herself from Emma, as well.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Though the sickness may have already taken root in Fall River, Emma probably made things much worse by sending the sea jelly specimen to Dr. Zollicoffer.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: It turns out the fish-men are vulnerable to tetanus.


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