Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Title: 31 Bond Street
Author: Ellen Horan
Genre: Historical Mystery
It is a cold January day in 1857 New York when dentist Dr. Harvey Burdell is found viciously murdered in his home at 31 Bond Street . The brutality of the crime in which Dr. Burdell was repeatedly stabbed and nearly decapitated shocks all of New York . As there is no sign of entry from outside the home, suspicion immediately falls on Emma Cunningham, the beautiful house mistress who occupies rooms in the home with her two daughters Helen and Augusta. Emma and her daughters are placed under house arrest on the orders of the city coroner and not allowed legal counsel. Henry Clinton, a prominent lawyer in the city hears of her plight and when it becomes obvious that powerful figures are deliberately setting up Emma to take the fall for the crime without looking for other suspects, he decides to take her case.
What unfolds is a novel of suspense and many unanswered questions-Was Harvey Burdell the upstanding citizen prosecutor Abraham Oakey Hall makes him out to be or was he a devious man with many enemies? Was Emma Cunningham merely the hired house mistress or was she Dr. Burdell’s wife? What has happened to Samuel, Dr. Burdell’s servant and driver who was the last person to see him alive the night he was murdered? We follow Emma’s story as the novel switches back and forth between the days of the trial and the year proceeding the night of the crime.
This novel which starts right off with the gruesome murder of Dr. Burdell, grabbed me from the very beginning. At first the crime is painted as one of passion but when we learn of the circumstances of Emma and her daughters it is hard not to feel sorry for her and to dislike Dr. Burdell. The author does an excellent job of keeping the reader guessing about the true nature of the characters. Throughout the entire book I could not figure out if Emma was really a distraught widow or a greedy gold digger. The subtle political undertones of the book added additional motives for Dr. Burdell’s murder. The abundance of historical detail with descriptions of the rabid tabloid reporters, the homes, the city, and the societal customs of the time that added to the richness of the story. I also appreciated that the author did not try to make Henry Clinton into hero intent on finding the real killer but instead had him focusing on evidence as the way to prove Emma did not commit the crime. I really got a feel for 1850’s New York and the ending was not what I expected.
I only had one qualm with the entire story and that was the portrayal of Emma towards the end of the book. That she would be shaken by the murder, the trial, and the unjust treatment throughout was understandable, but that she would go half mad and live in a dilapidated house as a shadow of her former self? I just didn’t see that given how determined she was to preserve her interests earlier in the book.
Other than that one small inconsistency I found this book to be an engaging read that I finished in one sitting, something I rarely do.
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Royal Reviewer Angela Renee at 9:30 AM