Karen Elizabeth Chaney,
New England Remembers: Lizzie Borden
(Commonwealth, 2006)

The murder has never been solved, although for many people over the past 100-plus years, Lizzie Borden is forever tarred as the ax murderer who brutally slaughtered her father and stepmother on Aug. 4, 1892, in Fall River, Mass.

Karen Elizabeth Chaney revisits the case in New England Remembers: Lizzie Borden, a slim volume of history that draws heavily on court reports and newspaper accounts of the murder and subsequent trial.

And it's fascinating stuff, for all that the Fall River Daily Globe that day devoted its front page to news items including an iron mill strike in Pennsylvania and plans for a World's Fair in Chicago; the murder itself was relegated to page 7. It didn't remain minor news for long, though -- as others have rightly pointed out in the past, Borden was the O.J. Simpson of her day, drowning in media attention that followed her long after the jury declared her "not guilty" of the crimes.

Chaney's book is an easy read, providing in-depth studies of the various characters involved in the story as well as the settings and evidence obtained by police. As an overview of the Borden drama, it's as good as some and better than most. Even so, scholars far more steeped in the history than I have criticized it for errors (some of which are obvious even to a casual reader such as myself), and I don't have the facts available to me to dispute them.

Still, this book did its job. It kept me intrigued from beginning to end. I put it down with a fairly clear understanding of the events as they are known as well as the theories that have been expounded. For my money, though, I'd recommend Rick Geary's illustrated The Borden Tragedy as a more interesting and more thorough account.

review by
Tom Knapp

22 December 2007

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