THE MUR­DERER’S MAID

A Lizzie Bor­den Novel

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight History/Historical -

Erika Mail­man, Bon­homie Press (OC­TO­BER) Hard­cover $25 (398pp), 978-0-9970664-4-9

Erika Mail­man’s kalei­do­scopic nar­ra­tive melds true crime, historical fic­tion, and ele­ments of a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller, all hing­ing on a sin­gu­lar ques­tion: “Who isn’t a sur­vivor from the wreck­age of child­hood?” To an­swer that ques­tion, The Mur­derer’s Maid, a Lizzie Bor­den novel, re­turns to the scene of the fa­mous ax mur­ders in a story that par­al­lels the past with the present.

Two pro­tag­o­nists work in con­cert to nav­i­gate Mail­man’s world. Chap­ter to chap­ter, per­spec­tives shift as the set­ting al­ter­nates be­tween the late1800s Brid­get Sul­li­van, the Bor­den fam­ily’s Ir­ish im­mi­grant maid, and 2016’s Brooke, a Latina grad­u­ate of the foster-care sys­tem who’s con­vinced she’s barely one step ahead of her would-be mur­der. Though there’s more than a cen­tury be­tween them, Brid­get and Brooke are bonded by cir­cum­stances: the para­noia and un­cer­tainty of their liv­ing sit­u­a­tions, their ex­pe­ri­ence as im­mi­grants, and their life-al­ter­ing prox­im­ity to hor­rific vi­o­lence.

While Brid­get’s story be­gins sev­eral years be­fore the fa­mous ax mur­ders and works its way to­ward the trial’s af­ter­math, Brooke’s be­gins with death and nav­i­gates the omi­nous ter­ri­tory of liv­ing out from un­der the shadow of crime. What’s in­ter­est­ing is their per­spec­tives as in­ti­mate out­siders and wit­nesses. Both know more than any­one else, but what they know is al­ways less than it takes to un­der­stand what they’ve seen. As if these par­al­lels weren’t rich enough, Mail­man even­tu­ally joins their nar­ra­tives in a sur­pris­ing twist of ei­ther epi­ge­net­ics or karma.

Whether it’s the nails se­cur­ing the door be­tween Lizzie’s bed­room and her par­ents’, or a naive child’s glimpse of adults cre­at­ing breaches that can never be re­paired, Mail­man probes the prece­dents of her open­ing ques­tion. De­spite the un­avoid­able bleak­ness, her an­swer is sur­pris­ingly full of hope and il­lus­trates how di­verse and com­plex life’s jour­ney can be when peo­ple have a will to sur­vive.

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