top of page
Top of Blog
coffee book glasses SMALL .jpg
  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Secrets of Lizzie Borden

ISBN: 9780758288912

Publisher: Kensington

Publication Date: 1/26/2016

Format: Paperback

My Rating: 4 Stars

In her enthralling, richly imagined new novel, Brandy Purdy, author of The Ripper’s Wife, creates a compelling portrait of the real, complex woman behind an unthinkable crime.

Lizzie Borden should be one of the most fortunate young women in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her wealthy father could easily afford to provide his daughters with fashionable clothes, travel, and a rich, cultured life. Instead, haunted by the ghost of childhood poverty, he forces Lizzie and her sister, Emma, to live frugally, denying them the simplest modern conveniences. Suitors and socializing are discouraged, as her father views all gentleman callers as fortune hunters.

Lonely and deeply unhappy, Lizzie stifles her frustration, dreaming of the freedom that will come with her eventual inheritance. But soon, even that chance of future independence seems about to be ripped away. And on a stifling August day in 1892, Lizzie’s long-simmering anger finally explodes…

Vividly written and thought-provoking, The Secrets of Lizzie Borden explores the fascinating events behind a crime that continues to grip the public imagination—a story of how thwarted desires and desperate rage could turn a dutiful daughter into a notorious killer.

My Review

A special thank you to Kensington and NetGalley for an ARC iin exchange for an honest review. THE SECRETS OF LIZZIE BORDEN a chilling blend of fact and fiction, a compelling tale of Lizzie Andrew Borden, an American woman who was tried and acquitted for the 1892 axe double murders: Her father and her stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts. “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants. The other is getting it.” A haunting life, Brandy Purdy takes us beyond the overall facts to the private thoughts, desires, perspectives, obsession, and disturbing mind of Lizzie Borden, making for a compelling read, as readers re-live a tragic childhood—ruled by desires and rage; leading up to and after the murders. Did she trade one prison for another? In an era when women were considered the weaker sex and female murderers were nearly unheard of, the trial and subsequent acquittal—of Lizzie Borden made her a media sensation. Sarah Morse Borden, mother --died when Lizzie was only three years old, her sister Emma was thirteen. She recalls only a few things, possibly from photographs, rather than actual memories. She does recall her stabbing deep stare, and a crude string of coral beads she clung to religiously, superstitiously convinced they would ward away all evil.(definitely some evil going down--smart lady). The residence at 92 Second Street was located in an affluent area, but the wealthiest residents of Fall River, Massachusetts lived in a more fashionable neighborhood, The Hill; farther away from the industrial areas of the city. Their mom had been a poor farm girl who had the good fortune to attract a prosperous undertaker. The father, Andrew Jackson Borden was a tenacious, bull-headed Yankee businessman who knew nothing, and cared even less about fashion, only what it cost him; however, Lizzie's mom knew how to make the most of a cheap dress goods sale and knew how to stretch a dollar. Despite his wealth, Andrew was known for his frugality. In 1865, when Lizzie was only five, their father took them to church and introduced them to their new stepmother, Abby Durfee Gray; thirty-seven years old. She was shy, short, and round. Lizzie liked her; however, Emma did not, and made her choose between them. To please Emma and honor their dead mother’s memory, she hardened her heart against Abby. Emma thought Abby had only married their father to stake claim to the inheritance that should have been theirs. If their father died, they would be beholden to their stepmom like beggars with their hands out, while Sarah (step-sister) became the princess. Their life was thrifty. Though their father could easily afford anything, he refused to allow the house to be hooked up to the gas line. Nor were they afforded hot or cold running water and a proper bathroom with toilet and tub. They had to relieve themselves into tin slop pails or lamp in hand down the steep dark stairs. They did not live like people with money. The total opposite. Their father continued to preach to them all men were fortune hunters, with no social life or little friends. They sat alone at church socials and band concerts, and their dance cards were always empty. Their father called their ideas and desires pretentious and silly. Lizzie was only beautiful in her dreams. They had money to make their dreams come true, if they could only spend it. Her father always stressed save, save; never spending. They were poor rich girls, prisoners in a day and age when nice respectable girls did not leave their father’s house except to go to their husbands. They were too good and proud to go out and work for a living to actually earn the pennies to pay for the lives they longed for. Lizzie was eager to spread her wings, leave, and fly far away. She was delighted when she had a bit of freedom, when she was allowed to spend eighteen weeks in Europe (Grand Tour) in the summer of 1890. Her one and only chance to live, to fly, and soar free before she was shut back inside her cage where the bars were the cheapest base metal. An unattainable lifestyle. She longed for a happy life, and to be called upon by a boy. Their father did not approve of ladies engaging in social activities. Lizzie felt from the start, her life seemed destined to be one of secrets. Every old maid, crabapple virgin, and prim spinster lady has a story, and it is usually a story about love, but it is always a sad one, bittersweet at best, that does not end with a wedding or a happily ever after. While she was away she met an architect in a second hand bookshop on a rainy day in London—he made her feel alive—she felt reborn and gave her a new name: Lizbeth—rare—elegant. However, back to her dungeon, more disappointments—the years passed, she became an old maid. Lost hope and gave up on love. A dreary prison with no amenities to make life pleasant or bearable. What if their father changed their will or Abby gave him a son, and then she allowed Emma to counsel her, fueled her fears. The real estate betrayal – giving things to Abby, so they decided that would steal from Abby, as they felt she was stealing from them. Then the pigeons. Bridget the housekeeper. The lesbian affair. David the butcher’s son. He wanted to marry her; however, to marry him would have been to exchange one prison for another. He was dangerous. He forced her. She had been a fool. The hayloft. Her destiny was in her hands and she would take the power, she had lost. She had been meek and allowed it. Ruled by her crazy thoughts, she is impulsive, emotional; unhinged by rage and panic. Lizzie also had unsuccessfully attempted to purchase prussic acid, a highly poisonous liquid, in the days before the murders. (later they attempted to use this as evidence at the trial).

The famous hatchet. Her hidden pent up anger unleashed. She snapped. Greed. Power. Horror, Sadness. She hated Abby, herself, and David. She hated she had been driven to this murderous madness. They drove her to it she thinks. She saw too much of herself and her future in Abby. She did not want to wake up and discover she had become her. She had married her father for security and a ready-made family. The truth was ugly and viciously unkind. Then Bridget, the housekeeper realized what happened; a secret she took to her grave. She cleaned up. Lizzie realized she had not made things better. Then the father comes home and she sees the will which has not been signed. Everything would go to Abby. Her father would control them from the grave. She had wasted her youth, miserably and helplessly—watching it pass for nothing. Thirty-two years wasted. Bound by her father, they would be slaves. Everything would go to Sarah, her precious piglet. Enraged. Trapped. Filled with furry—it was the only way. The hatchet is once again active. The great "Emancipator" had helped her free from enslavement. She had hacked the chains and set them both free. Emma and she were now cold and chilly strangers. Free, rich, and orphaned all in the same bloody day! Even though she knew she was guilty, she believed implicitly in her innocence. Dark days ahead for ten months in a prison cell. The trial. Trapped. Whereas, before she had felt stifled and trapped, like a prisoner in the grim, outmoded confines of father’s house, now she was confined to a single cell, allowed out only for an hour’s exercise each day and when her presence was required in court. The accommodations made her house on 92 Second street seem luxurious, in comparison. Left all alone in the darkness unable to sleep. Her fate. Justice could not be predicted. That Carnival in New Bedford began on June 5, 1893 (trial) and lasted fourteen days. Innocent. She was free. Not guilty. She was delighted. “Yesterday I had been Fall River’s vindicated darling; today I was their grudgingly tolerated pariah, their resident leper. Happiness blinded her. She thought all her dreams were finally coming true. Freedom, riches, luxury and at long last love." The house went up for sale. Maplecroft – her dream home. She bought and immersed herself into spending. Then she felt betrayed by her sister. She accused her sister of being like her father. The minute she was acquitted, Emma left her to fend for herself. She would never go back to the primitive way of living at the house on 92 Second street. A house filled with anger, resentment, greed and control. With her wealth, she still could hear her father’s voice calling her a spendthrift. She wanted to scream money is made for spending, not hoarding. She had servants. No matter the money, the people did not like her. Nothing she did was right. She was going to step out in a new life with a new name. Lizsbeth A Borden of Maplecroft—the social invitations which never came; the constant curiosity, the shunning, and hostile silences when she went into town. She loved being caught up in a large city where no one knew her. Then she would be in the news, someone always wanted money. She always returned to Maplecroft, her magnificent empty-halls, mausoleum-palace with her servants. It was now a prison, a sanitarium, and a living tomb for her as well as the palace of all her desires and dreams. Where she would hide behind from the world whenever the curious pressed to close or the newspapers pried too deep. From her relationships, and romances Lizzie attracted curiosity and controversy. Also the books she burned about herself. She had traded one prison for another. Would she ever be truly set free? “My life is a life of hard and sad compromises, cruel, and brutal facts, and the splendid isolation of a millionaire leper, fated to live out my days like an aging, withering white haired Rupunzel perched high up in her ivory tower resigning herself to the truth that her price is never going to come and repenting her one attempt to rescue herself because it also ruined all her hopes and chances. Even as I set myself free with that impetuously wielded, fury-fueled hatchet, I made myself a perpetual prisoner, for life, and ever after, destined to walk alone under the dark cloud of suspicion.” Was it worth it? Scandal-ridden and society-shunned scoundrel, Oscar Wilde, said it best: "The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Money cannot buy happiness and it is the root of all evil. Their blood bought her a life of lonely luxury. Lizzie soon learns money is a cold comfort—it can buy things, but not warmth of a lover or devoted husband. Lizzie always a romantic, dreams of being a woman of the world, sophisticated and fashionable. In reality, she became a woman shunned, and friendless, alone in the world. Things did not turn out the way she planned. She gained the financial freedom she had craved, as well as Emma; however, not the happiness. An example of three different prisons. As time rolled on, Fall River went into a decline with the economy, similar to Lizzie’s life. She no longer cared about her weight or eating. The bloody deeds made her infamous. She is tired of living and afraid to die. There is always a price to pay for everything. She died at sixty-six after complications from surgery. Her sister died nine days later. She had been frugal, unlike her sister.

Today: Located just fifty miles south of Boston, minutes from Providence or Newport, R.I. and the gateway to Cape Cod, this landmark home is accessible from all major highways and is now the Lizzie Borden Museum and Bed and Breakfast. (As a consultant for inns, B&Bs, and hotels—this would be one assignment, I would kindly turn down). Creepy. Very impressive, my first read by historical fiction author, Brandy Purdy; well researched and well-written. An ideal choice for book clubs and further discussions. (included). For fans of historical fiction, Lizzie Borden, mysteries, and psycho-crime thrillers. You will not be disappointed.

Review Links:

About the Author

Brandy Purdy is the author of several historical novels. When she's not writing, she's either reading or watching classic movies. She currently lives in Beaumont, TX. Visit her website at for more information about her books. You can also follow her via her blog, where she posts updates about her work and reviews of what she has been reading. Read More






bottom of page