See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Despite this being the story of the famous Borden ax murders, at it’s heart it’s really the story of a terribly dysfunctional family. Sarah Schmidt’s novel paints a fabulously unsettling picture of the Borden family – a family ruled by a tyrannical, miserly patriarch, an addled stepmother, codependent and unstable sisters, and poor Bridget the maid, who sees everything but is powerless to intervene or escape.

Lizzie is an unreliable narrator (as is to be expected, I suppose) and the narration in the chapters told from her perspective is dizzying in it’s erratic and piecemeal presentation. Her thoughts jump around, concentrating heavily on sensation – what she felt, saw, heard, tasted – and she focuses on seemingly unimportant details (these details would prove to be important later, of course). I am delighted, however, to see that the other characters in the story are very well fleshed out and were what grounded the novel when Lizzie’s narration took a fantastical turn. Schmidt’s ability to write the characters in such a believable fashion serves to highlight just how unbalanced Lizzie was.

The gruesome nature of the crimes lends itself to a few death scenes in the novel which are handled in an understated but deeply unsettling way. The reactions of each character to the bodies are entirely in line with their characters. For those with squeamish stomachs, I advise avoiding food while reading. Also perhaps food after reading as well considering how food is also handled in the boo (the MUTTON STEW! <gag>).

This book is dark, haunting, unsettling, but also beautiful in it’s style. Schmidt’s expert combination of historical accuracy and creepy storytelling makes for a superb and fresh retelling of a well-known American murder.

(Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic Press for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

May Book Review Club: The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

Hercule Poirot is having a quiet dinner in his favorite London coffeehouse when he encounters a young woman who confesses to him that she is terrified of being murdered but refuses his offers of assistance.  Later that day Poirot hears of a series of bizarre murders at an upscale London hotel and accompanies the Scotland Yard detective staying in his boardinghouse to the scene of the crime. There they find three bodies laid out identically in three separate rooms …each with a monogrammed cuff link left in their mouth. He can’t help but think that the young woman he met earlier that night may be the murder’s fourth victim…

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 I personally really enjoyed this book, though I know it’s taken some hard hits from other reviewers and even some critics.  I didn’t go into this expecting the writing to mimic Christie’s writing because – and she’d tell you this herself – Sophie Hannah isn’t Agatha Christie! Of course the writing won’t be a replica of the original Poirot works.  Hannah does, however, capture Poirot’s personality – his disdain over a lack of imagination in his detective partner, his excitement when he’s put two clues together, and his pompous explanations at the close of the book.  Hannah also successfully captures the importance of motive and psychology to the plot. She is able to show us both the morality and the darkness of the characters in her story in a way that was vitally important in all of Christie’s work. The charming English village, the “locked room” setting for the murders, and the narrative voice of Catchall, Poirot’s sidekick from Scotland Yard all act to set the scene for a tale told in Christie’s world, if not in her voice.

In the end, the Monogram Murders should not be looked at as a “continuation” of the Poirot library, but rather a new interpretation of an old familiar character. The puzzling twists and turns of the plot, the voices of the characters, and the seeming impossibility of the mystery are all echoes of the Christie I love, with the fabulous writing of Hannah to pull it all together.

For more great reviews this month, check out Barrie’s Blog!

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@Barrie Summy