31 BOND STREET by Helen Horan

Publisher Harper Collins, March 30, 2010

The sensational murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell in his lower Manhattan home made front-page news across the United States in 1857. “Who killed Dr. Burdell?” was a question that gripped our nation. 31 BOND STREET, a debut novel by Ellen Horan, interweaves fiction with actual events in a clever historical narrative that blends romance, politics, greed and sexual intrigue in a suspenseful drama.

The story opens when an errand boy discovers Burdell’s body in the bedroom of his posh Bond Street home. The novel’s central characters are Dr. Harvey Burdell, a dentist and unscrupulous businessman; his lover, the ambitious, Brooklyn-born Emma Cunningham; the District Attorney, Abraham Oakey Hall (later to become mayor of New York); and Henry Clinton, a prominent defense lawyer. The enigmatic relationship between Emma and Dr. Burdell makes her the prime suspect, and her trial is nothing less than sensational. Will she hang? Were her teenaged daughters involved? What did the servants know? Who was the last person to see Burdell alive? During the trial, the two lawyers fight for truth, justice and their careers.

This novel is set against the background of bustling, corrupt New York City, just four years before the Civil War. The author intertwines two main narratives: the trial through the perspective of the defense attorney Henry Clinton, and the story of the lovely young widow Emma Cunningham whose search for a husband brings her into the arms and home of Dr. Burdell.

The book becomes a fascinating archeological dig, taking the reader through the minutiae of a buried past, only to uncover circumstances that are shockingly contemporary: a sensationalist press, burgeoning new wealth, a booming real estate market, and conflicts of race and gender. It vividly exposes a small slice of lost history as it explores New York City on the eve of the Civil War, where we discover a group of powerful New Yorkers plotting with the South to bring down the growing Abolitionist Movement in order to restore slavery. They bet on war between the North and South, betting that the South would win.

In the tradition of historical fiction such as The Alienist by Caleb Carr, and in the model of the best narrative nonfiction such as Devil in the White City, the author has used nineteenth century sources such as newspaper articles, trial transcripts and public documents to recreate this fascinating period and setting in 31 Bond Street, a novel that wonderfully blends legal drama with upstairs/downstairs intrigue

31  BOND STREET is an impressive blend of imagination and history as it vividly brings to life one of New York's City's most notorious crimes. Ellen Horan has written a novel that, once begun, will be difficult for any reader to put down
-- Ron Rash, author of Serena
 



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