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31 Bond Street – Murder in New York City

The most sensational murder of the nineteenth century – but it is all very civilized, at first – set in New York City in the 1850s, the seat of political corruption and greed during the time of Tammany Hall bosses.  Both in the actual case and the novel, the dentist, Dr. Burdell, is brutally murdered. His housekeeper and boarder who claims to be his wife, is accused and stands trial.

In 31 Bond Street, Ellen Horan manipulates the historical information through a suspenseful trial, interjecting forensic evidence before its time.  Greed and corruption are not enough, so she elaborates with the Underground Railroad and sacred Indian burial grounds as foils for the motive.     But, her depiction of the city and the trials of women (both in court and in life) at the time are not forgiving. Through Emma Cunningham, Hogan shows how hard life was in those days, and how women had little freedom and access to independence or money.

Ellen Horan reenacts the murder of Harvey Burdell and follows the story fairly closely, embellishing some characters, eliminating others.   The key players are based on the real prosecutor, Oakley; defense attorney, Clinton; and the defendant, Emma Cunningham.   Horan layers the attorneys with personal qualities that pit good against evil, but whoever Emma Cunningham is, you won’t know for certain until the end.    Even then, Hogan cannot leave well enough alone, and keeps the story stumbling along.

The story is captivating from the beginning but should probably end with the verdict.   Part IV seems like an afterthought; Hogan seems intent on superfluously tieing up loose ends by inventing another murder, discovering secret passages,  and making sure all the characters lives and motives are explained.

This is a spoiler if you don’t know the history, but you can check on the real story at
http://www.thehistorybox.com/ny_city/nycity_crime_19th_century_dr._burdell_article00427.htm

If you haven’t heard about the case, you might want to wait until after you read the book.  Of course, the real ending is different – isn’t it always changed from fact to fiction?