As the Borden ax-murder centennial approaches (1992), Lizzie Fever is apparently in the air--with a non-fiction reappraisal...



As the Borden ax-murder centennial approaches (1992), Lizzie Fever is apparently in the air--with a non-fiction reappraisal by Frank Spiering coming in June as well as this half-absorbing novel by veteran Hunter. The book begins strongly, as 30-year-old Lizzie arrives in 1890 London for a trip with three lady-friends. (The fact of the trip is historical; the specifics are all fictional.) Then there's a flash-forward to 1892 Fall River--where the double-murder has just taken place. And so it goes throughout: in alternating chapters, Lizzie's European travels run parallel to the progress of her 1892-93 trial. What's the connection? That puzzle is a sturdy hook in the novel's first half--as prim, religious Lizzie blooms in foreign climes, befriended by a rich, attractive, free-speaking English couple: hedonists Alison and Albert Newbury. Meanwhile, however, the impersonal chapters on the inquest and trial--intensely faithful to factual transcript material--bog down somewhat in details of evidence, covering all those not-always-fascinating points familiar to true-crime readers: Lizzie's dubious alibi; her mysterious attempts to purchase poison; the movements of maid Maggie (a.k.a. Bridget); minutiae related to the axes, Lizzie's missing dress, etc.--as well as the sour Borden family situation. And then, as Hunter too coyly belabors his basic gimmick, it begins to become clear just where Lizzie's England/France tourism is leading: ever so slowly into a lesbian affair with worldly, forceful, seductive Alison--leaving Lizzie guilt-ridden, afraid of exposure, but deep in obsessive love when she goes home to America. So finally, while the 1893 Lizzie is being acquitted, the flashbacks move up to 1892, explaining how Lizzie's thwarted passion led her to seduce maid Maggie, kill her stepma (who found shameful love-letters). . . and her father too. Hunter's teased-out handling of the lesbian motif here verges on mere titillation at times, and on thematic crudeness at the end. (Before swinging her hatchet, Lizzie muses: ""Are we, as women, not entitled to the same passion men consider their God-given right?"") The inquest/trial chapters will delight only evidence/courtroom buffs. But, if an uneasy hybrid, this is a readable, provocative view of elusive Lizzie, very engaging in those early chapters of eye-opening, charmingly naive foreign travel.

Pub Date: May 15, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Arbor House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1984

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