Lizzie Borden vs. C’thulhu, Round 2

ChapelwoodChapelwood: The Borden Dispatches
Cheri Priest
Roc Books, 434 pgs.
Paperback $16.00, ebook $9.99, audio $29.99

It’s been decades since the events in Maplecroft.  Lizzie Borden lives a quiet, reclusive life alone in her mansion.  But she keeps up with events in the outside world through magazines, journals, and newspapers that arrive via the US Postal Service.

So when she starts reading reports of a serial axe murderer terrorizing Birmingham, Alabama, it gets her attention.  (Turns out he’s one of the good guys.  Really.)  Especially when she starts to see other references to Birmingham, references about a dark cult that meets in an old church out in the woods at a place called Chapelwood.

Then she gets a telephone call from her old friend, Inspector Simon Wolf.  He’s in Birmingham investigating the death of a friend, a priest who was gunned down on the steps of his church in broad daylight.  Before he died, the priest had written Wolf, asking for his assistance.

Wolf thinks all of the events in Birmingham are related.  And he wants Lizzie’s help.  It looks like Lizzie is going to get to swing her axe one more time.

When I started reading this book, I tweeted that I was creeped out by the end of the second page.  The opening chapter is from the point of view of the axe murderer, who is fleeing the cult.  He describes the members all sleeping together in the basement of Chapelwood in one great pile, along with limbs that aren’t arms and aren’t legs.  Very creepy.

And that’s one of the best things about Chapelwood.  Priest creates a really sinister atmosphere, and she does so more by not telling you things than by shoving them in your face.  The C’thulhu Mythos permeates this novel, seeping from the very pages.  But you have to be familiar with the works of H. P. Lovecraft to pick up on most things.  There’s one mention of the Necronomicon, but it’s in passing and not by name, just a mention of the Arab who wrote the new scriptures the cult has adopted.

There’s the door knocker that’s shaped like C’thulhu.  If you’ve ever seen a description of C’thulhu, then you recognize him immediately.  If you don’t, then you probably won’t get the reference because he’s never named.  It’s just this weirdly shaped door knocker on the front door of Chapelwood that Lizzie and Wolf find when they go to rescue a young woman who is to be sacrificed.

Priest doesn’t shy away from violence, but it’s not what drives her brand of horror.  The woman can do atmosphere.  She can do menacing.  She can do creepy.  She’s one of the best writers in the horror/dark fantasy genre working today.  You should check out her books.  But if you’ve not read Maplecroft, you should probably start there, as Chapelwood contains quite a few references to the previous book.  And then read Chapelwood.  It doesn’t come out until Tuesday, so you’ve got time to read the first in this series.

I’d like to thank the good folks at Roc Books for sending me the review copy of Chapelwood.

4 thoughts on “Lizzie Borden vs. C’thulhu, Round 2

  1. AngorMike

    Looks at horde of squamous cultists.
    Looks at axe.

    “We’re going to need a bigger axe.”

    Cue rock music while Lizzie goes to town.

  2. Paul McNamee

    Priest used the details of a real murder down in Alabama. She said it is such a crazy true story that she needed to excise parts to make it work in her story. Truth is stranger than fiction and all that.

    1. Keith West Post author

      I wondered if she was drawing on real events but hadn’t had time to check. I’ll definitely look for her source material now.


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