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