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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Review: 31 Bond Street

31 Bond Street 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The humble origins of iconographic places often get lost beneath the layers of time and change. In the late 1800s, the streets of New York City still used cobblestone paving. The Jersey shore still had lots for sale. Shanty towns peppered the city and wooded areas still bordered the city. However the life changing opportunities and unforgiving competition for position and power which personify New York were well on their way to being fully formed. New York society teamed with economic and cultural growth as well as political power. Ellen Horan captures the burgeoning persona of New York in her novel, 31 Bond Street and offers up an enticing drama filled with murder, intrigue, greed and betrayal.

Horan’s novel retells the murder trial of Dr. Harvey Burdell, a dentist, a respected citizen of New York and a man who dabbled in local real estate. She brings the city of the era clearly and engagingly to life. Her vivid descriptions, characterizations and believable imagining of the events preceding and following the murder trial clearly illustrate her skill as a writer and the depth of her research.

The novel opens in the winter of 1857. Burdell has been viciously murdered in his home. Emma Cunningham, the widow who resides there with her two daughters and manages his home is the primary suspect. She finds herself being tried in the court of public opinion as the Coroner Edward Connery conducts a highly questionable inquest in the Burdell home; she may receive a guilty verdict before her case makes it to trial.

Recognizing her precarious position Cunningham sends a note to Henry Clinton a popular New York attorney known for taking on worthy and challenging cases. When he accepts her request, he learns that his professional rival, New York County district attorney, Abraham Oakley Hall seems to intend to use the trial to raise his public profile and further his bid for the mayoral seat of New York.

Using these dynamic historical figures and equally intriguing fictional additions, Horan weaves a solid story of murder, personal betrayal and political ambition. 31 Bond Street is not an edge of your seat page turner to be bolted down in a few sittings. It’s a meal to savor much like the one described in a scene during which Clinton and his junior partner discuss trial strategy. The meal is served in sumptuous and fully articulated courses meant to be weighed and appreciated to the last bite. This novel deserves the same.

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