Review by Frank Plowright
“Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty one”.
It’s a rare murder that spawns a piece of children’s doggerel, let alone one still recited and known a century after the tragic events of 1892, but so it is with the Borden murders. Rick Geary chooses to ignore the sensationalism, instead basing his graphic novel on the anonymous first hand investigative report of a Fall River, Massachusetts resident of the time, their account discovered at an auction sale in 1990, and duly provenanced as authentic. The narrator is a contemporary of the then 32 year old Lizzie, having played with her as a child, and by her account, although successful, Andrew Borden was a mean and distant man and his second wife disliked by her stepdaughters.
Anyone only familiar with the rhyme will discover plenty of surprises in Geary’s presentation. Lizzie is arrested shortly after the murders due to inconsistencies in the story she told police as to her whereabouts and activities, and because a few days previously she’d attempted to buy acid from a chemist at the other end of town. The claim was that it was required to remove a stain from a coat. Despite being an adaptation, this and other evidence is mulled over in a form surprisingly similar to the style Geary adopts for other investigations in the Treasury of Victorian Murder series, and as such makes for a compelling read. Geary’s engagingly distanced illustrations capture the period and location, while in comics form no-one else presents stern Victorians as imposingly as him.
Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence remains a matter of considerable speculation to this day, and Geary laying out the evidence clearly and concisely enables a new generation to add their speculations. It’s also available in the second Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium along with some of Geary’s other investigations.