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31 Bond Street: A Novel of Murder, Innocence, and Power in New York City    by Ellen Horan order for
31 Bond Street
by Ellen Horan
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In 31 Bond Street: A Novel of Murder, Innocence, and Power in New York City, Ellen Horan tells an intricate fictional tale based on real events surrounding the mysterious murder of wealthy Dr. Harvey Burdell in 1857 New York. Atmospheric settings and quotes from the 1850s New York Times take readers right there along with the murderer and the victims of a crime more far reaching than it first appears.

Recent widow Emma Cunningham is the housekeeper at 31 Bond Street, where she lives with her two daughters. 'It was common for a bachelor like Dr. Burdell, who lives alone without a family, to lease the upper part of his large townhouse to a widow who would oversee the housekeeping and servants.' When Burdell is found dead in his office, Emma Cunningham becomes the prime suspect - especially after she reveals a marriage certificate recording her union to Burdell two weeks earlier. As was the practice of the times, the Coroner uses reporters from the New York dailies to interview witnesses. He also puts everyone under close house arrest while he investigates.

Attorney Henry Clinton lives a comfortable life with his wife Elizabeth, on whom he depends for her keen mind as well as for his domestic comforts. After he receives a note from Emma Cunningham (whose solicitor recommended him to her) he takes on her defense. His opponent, ambitious district attorney Abraham Oakey Hall, seems to be trying to railroad Emma, along with 'a bumbling coroner and a fevered press.' Since the evidence is all circumstantial, Clinton eventually wins. But in parallel with the court case, readers are shown flashbacks of Emma Cunningham's life and soon begin to wonder - is this femme fatale as innocent as her lawyer believes her to be?

At the center of the mystery is a tract of land in New Jersey, which Burdell persuaded Emma Cunningham to purchase before he realized its value. A Commodore wishes to buy it to build factories, but a Southern contingent is also interested - why? There are further deaths, betrayals abound, a pro-slavery group plots to win power in the North, and few are innocent of wrongdoing, especially Harvey Burdell. An Author's Note at the end summarizes the truths underlying this fictional account of events. Book groups will especially enjoy 31 Bond Street as the story - which is not to be missed by fans of historical mysteries - raises plenty of questions for debate.

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