Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Guest Review: 31 Bond Street

Summary: Who killed Dr. Harvey Burdell?

Though there are no witnesses and no clues, fingers point to Emma Cunningham, the refined, pale-skinned widow who managed Burdell’s house and his servants. Rumored to be a black-hearted gold digger with designs on the doctor’s name and fortune, Emma is immediately put under house arrest during a murder investigation. A swift conviction is sure to catapult flamboyant district attorney Abraham Oakey Hall into the mayor’s seat. But one formidable obstacle stands in his way: the defense attorney Henry Clinton. Committed to justice and the law, Clinton will aid the vulnerable widow in her desperate fight to save herself from the gallows.

Set in 1857 New York, this gripping mystery is also a richly detailed excavation of a lost age. Horan vividly re-creates a tumultuous era characterized by a sensationalist press, aggressive new wealth, a booming real-estate market, corruption, racial conflict, economic inequality between men and women, and the erosion of the old codes of behavior. A tale of murder, sex, greed, and politics, this spellbinding narrative transports readers to a time that eerily echoes our own. -- Harper

I have seen so many wonderful reviews for 31 BOND STREET by Ellen Horan in the blogosphere! I definitely intend to read it because I just know I'd love it; but in the meantime, I gave the book to my dad -- Booking Pap Pap. I had a feeling that he'd enjoy this novel which includes elements of mystery, intrigue, and history! Here are his thoughts:

31 BOND STREET by Ellen Horan is her first novel and a very good start to her writing career. Horan’s fictional crime mystery novel is based on a sensational nineteenth-century true-life crime story in which dentist Harvey Burdell is found brutally murdered in his Manhattan home. There are no witnesses and Emma Cunningham, his attractive housekeeper, is charged with the murder. Emma and her two teenage daughters are left destitute by her late husband and Harry Burdell takes Emma in as his house mistress with the promise of marriage. According to the ambitious District Attorney Abraham Oakey Hall this is a strong motive for the murder and considers a conviction as a stepping stone to become mayor of New York. Emma is defended by Henry Clinton, who is fired by his law firm for taking the case. The first three parts of the book are taken up with the murder investigation and trial while a forth section deals with the aftermath of the trial.

31 BOND STREET is a wonderful blend of truth and fiction with a story line that revolves around four main characters that played major roles in the original crime. Her use of techniques such as actual newspaper stories brings a sense of reality to the novel. The author weaves her storyline with its many subplots into 1857 New York society replete with greed and corruption. She gives the reader a good picture of the low status of women, the influence of Tammany Hall, the condition of free Blacks and runaway slaves and the exploitation of Native Indians during this pre-Civil War period. These conditions play a large role in Horan’s imaginary version of the crime. Horan utilizes an interesting writing technique alternating between past and present periods to set up her version of the crime without giving away the end prematurely.

Horan could have ended the novel with the pronouncement of the verdict but elected to speculate on a possible alternative motive for the crime. I thought the book became a little less fluid at this point as Horan created a reason for the crime based more on society ills and created additional key characters that were not developed adequately earlier in the novel. The author also added an interesting section at the end book where she summarizes the real post-trial lives of Abraham Oakey Hall, Henry Clinton and Elizabeth Cunningham.

All in all 31 BOND STREET is a very good novel that will keep the reader engaged until the very end. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good historical crime mystery.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his insightful review and to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.


bermudaonion said...

I'm intrigued by this book since it's based on an actual event. Another great review from Booking Pap Pap!

Alyce said...

It sounds like a really good blend of fiction and nonfiction. I always like it when an author includes sources from real life (like newspapers, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I haven't read a mystery in a while. This one sounds like a good choice. Thanks for the review.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

sounds like a good one...Edith Wharton style...gotta love that!

Beth F said...

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for another great review. I have been wanting to read this.