I met author C.A. (Christine) Verstraete during the October Frights Blog Hop earlier this month. I quickly ordered her new book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, intrigued by the notion of turning the most famous matricidal/patricidal figure in American history into an occult detective. Though I admit I haven’t yet read the novel, it seems like a very promising next step from — and a clever spin on — Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) and his Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2010).
A mystery runs through Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, a sinister puzzle that Borden must solve. As I say, she’s presented as an occult detective, and as I do with my Vera Van Slyke chronicles, Verstraete interweaves historical fact with supernatural fiction in this novel. Her other work has been published in various anthologies and magazines, including Mystery Weekly, Siren’s Call and Happy Homicides 3: Summertime Crime. She’s also the author of a young adult novel, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie.
I directed my usual four questions regarding occult detective characters specifically to Verstraete’s re-imagining of Lizzie Borden.
#1-Using three similes—and as many sentences as you like—describe your occult detective character(s).
Remember Lizzie Borden? Yes, the woman with the axe, except in my book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, I’ve given her a good reason and explanation as to why she killed her father and stepmother … because she had no other choice. Lizzie’s staid life in 1892 is turned upside down that August 4th morning when she hears a noise and goes upstairs to find her stepmother … not quite herself. Which is an understatement. Here’s what she sees:
She gasped, which got the attention of Mrs. Borden, who jerked her head and growled. Lizzie choked back a cry of alarm. Abby’s square, plain face now appeared twisted and ashen gray. Her eyes, once bright with interest, stared from under a milky covering as if she had cataracts. She resembled a female version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Another growl and a moan, and the older woman lunged, arms rigid, her stubby hands held out like claws.
“Mrs. Borden, Abby!” Lizzie yelled and stumbled backward as fast as she could. “Abby, do you hear me?”
Her stepmother shuffled forward, her steps slow but steady. She showed no emotion or sense of recognition. The only utterances she made were those strange low moans.
So who is Lizzie?
1) She’s no wallflower. Lizzie is a take-charge person who is set on protecting her sister, Emma, and her hometown of Fall River, Massachusetts from this terrible scourge that’s been unleashed. This is not the Lizzie you thought you knew, but someone who’s faced death herself and goes from a rather boring, sedate life, to becoming a pretty decent zombie fighter.
2) She’s determined. She intends on finding the answers as to who is behind the zombie outbreak.
3) She’s someone willing to “face the music” (She’s already faced her own death march, remember…) —even if it means uncovering her own father’s secrets.
#2-While reading about a fictional world where a vampire travels to, say, a city that is recognizably Victorian London or small-town Maine, a reader might look up suddenly and wonder what was that noise? However, while reading about a fictional world where a vampire enters a tavern that’s frequented by zombies, werewolves, and ghosts, a reader escapes to far-flung fantasy-land and probably ignores that noise altogether. How close is your fictional world to the world of reader?
Her world is Victorian Massachusetts with horse-drawn carriages and proper dress and manners, except that it’s now inhabited by the undead. A secret society is working behind the scenes to keep the surge under some kind of control. Lizzie, like many others (since those who encounter such an attack most likely don’t survive) was initially unaware of what was going on. She learns firsthand what’s going on when she’s nearly attacked by her father and stepmother and kills them both in that horrible murder we know from history. Her life follows the real life scenario with her going on trial, but once she’s found not guilty, she’s drawn even more into working to vanquish the creatures.
#3-I see occult detective fiction as a cross-genre of mystery and supernatural fiction. Do you agree with this, and if so, do you lean more into one genre than the other? If you don’t agree, what’s your problem?
Even though Lizzie is battling zombies, like her occult detective counterparts, she’s facing a supernatural evil in what was a normal world. Given her own personal involvement and the horrific murders in her family, with her own life at stake she’s determined to ferret out the reason behind the crimes. No matter what they are seeking, these kinds of detectives are trying to unravel a crime with a supernatural power or sense behind it that still usually has some kind of reason or link to the natural world, wouldn’t you say?
#4-What are your plans?
I’m working on a novella set in Lizzie’s hometown with a more supernatural background, but this time from the point of view of the hometown doctor who also came to the Borden home the morning of the murders. I’ve enjoyed writing Lizzie’s story and think there’s another reason as to why her hometown was so cursed.
I also am working on what you might consider more occult detective-like stories with Lizzie investigating some mysteries with supernatural links. I really like Lizzie and don’t want to let go of her just yet.