“Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done
She gave her father fortyone.”
Aha! But did she? Ever since those murders in 1892 on Fall River in Massachusetts, there had been speculation. Not just in the United States, but around the world. What on earth really happened on that fateful day in August? Years ago I remember reading another book based on this event, and being intrigued then as I am now by the whole thing. For her first novel, Sarah Schmidt has researched widely and has decided to tell the tale from Lizzie’s viewpoint, from her sister Emma’s, from their maid Bridget’s and from a fictional character, Benjamin. Introducing a stranger into their midst seems to be a master stroke, because his actions are used to account for so many mysterious aspects of this horrendous crime. Schmidt also uses him to recount the trial of Lizzie for the murders of her father and her stepmother. Lizzie, at the time, and usually ever since, has been seen as the guilty party. Emma and Lizzie lived together in the house in Fall River until Emma suddenly left, in 1905, never to return, and never to speak to her sister again. Why? Benjamin’s thoughts help here too.
At the close of the novel, the writer reveals some of her research, with a timeline of the true events, and with the last wills of Emma and Lizzie. We are no wiser after all this evocation, but we are just as puzzled and intrigued as ever we were. Well done Sarah Schmidt your future books will be well worth reading.
SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by SARAH SCHMIDT
PUBLISHED by HACHETTE for a recommended $32.99