31 BOND STREET by Ellen Horan
“Let us use the cold impartial reason of the law to take the place of heated passion and coarse ignorance. Let evidence be substituted for gossip and fact for scandal. Let every weak link in the chain of circumstantial evidence be dissipated. If that happens, this defendant will be vindicated, and every stain placed upon her name…shall be removed.”
Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (APR 16, 2010)
31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan, is the address of Dr. Harvey Burdell, a smooth-talking dentist with big ambitions. The setting is New York City, seven years before the Civil War. Burdell’s housemistress, thirty-six year old Emma Cunningham, has two daughters, eighteen and fifteen, but her late husband left her nearly destitute. She fervently hopes that Burdell will take her under his wing and solve her financial woes. However, her fortunes take a downward spiral when the dentist is found slaughtered in his own home. Who had the motive, means and opportunity to commit this horrific crime? Reporters speculate that Emma was either a gold digging monster or an innocent victim of circumstance. When the authorities finally arrest her, Emma hires an idealistic and determined defense attorney named Oliver Clinton. His opponent, Abraham Oakey Hall, is an aggressive and politically connected prosecutor.
Horan, who spent many hours in the New York Public Library conducting extensive research, makes the most of a tantalizing mystery that blends fact and fiction. The author captures the frenetic pace of New York City, which in 1857 was tarnished by greed, incompetence, and corruption. People of color, women, and the destitute were marginalized and abused by the arrogant and self-serving upper classes.
Shifting between the past and the present, Horan keeps us engrossed by providing just enough information to pique our curiosity. Her characters are lively and intriguing: Harvey Burdell appears charming and urbane until his veneer of gentility slips away; Emma Cunnigham is a beautiful woman who is on the verge of panic as her resources dwindle; Samuel, Dr. Burdell’s black groom and carriage driver, possesses explosive information that could cost him his life; and the young and inexperienced Henry Clinton takes an enormous risk when he agrees to be Emma’s lawyer. If he wins, it could make his fortune, but if he loses, his career will suffer and, far worse, his client will hang.
This well-constructed novel depicts a society in which the well-to-do reside in luxurious homes while the lower classes exist in squalor. After a servant drops garbage in the street, starving women pounce on the refuse. The “women were huddled, waiting; they rushed forward, wraithlike, their cheeks sallow and bloated, their eyes lusterless, their teeth discolored, and their hair matted with dirt.” Subsequently, they “ate ravenously from the waste.”
31 Bond Street, with its undertones of scandal, avarice, violence, and betrayal, is a fast-paced legal thriller that provides a colorful look at a sordid chapter in a great city’s history. Adding to the book’s considerable appeal are its vintage newspaper clips and illustrations of old New York. This fine debut novel should appeal to readers who appreciate quality historical fiction.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 20 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper; 1 edition (March 30, 2010)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||31 Bond Street|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Ellen Horan|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Also set in 1857 New York City:
The Spiritualist by Megan Chance
And earlier in the same city:
Striver’s Row by Kevin Baker
- 31 Bond Street (March 2010)