Do you ever keep slogging through a book that’s not really doing much for you just because you think you should like it?
That’s kind of what Cherie Priest’s “Maplecroft” ($15, Roc) was like for me.
I picked it up on the recommendation of another author I really enjoy and one who has steered me toward several really good books over the past few years. On the surface, it seemed like something I should love. Lizzie Borden fighting Lovecraftian monstrosities. How great a setup is that? Maybe it made my hopes too high.
“Maplecroft” opens a number of years after Borden’s famous murders. She’s been acquitted and is living in Fall River, Massachusetts, serving as caretaker for her ailing older sister Emma. Lizzie lives quietly and stays mostly under the radar, or so it seems.
In fact, she has a secret lab in her basement where she studies and fights against the evil that took her father and stepmother and forced her to take her axe to them.
Her sister, meanwhile, has a brilliant scientific mind and has created a male alter ego that allows her to get published and communicate with professionals in the field. It’s one of those communications that is about to take the mysterious horrors to a new level.
“Maplecroft” contains moments of brilliant wordsmithing from Priest, and the events did command my attention at several points. The story just never seemed to hold it for long.
I particularly liked the sequences where Emma’s friend Zollicoffer was descending into madness. The paranoia and ranting delusion of those passages reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe at his best, very much along the lines of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Every time Priest pulled me in to the story, though, the pacing seemed to leave me wandering back out.
But the biggest problem with “Maplecroft” was that I just didn’t care much about the principal characters and didn’t really care what happened to them. Emma, for all her brilliance, is sort of a whiny brat. And Lizzie, for all the mystery and mystique surrounding her character, seems at times to fade into the background of this story.
Ultimately, the best I can give the book is a half-hearted “OK.” It’s an interesting premise that just didn’t live up to what it could have been. I enjoyed it at times, and it may lead me to try some of Priest’s other books, but I’m highly unlikely to continue this series.