Mar 2, 2010

GIVEAWAY! Book Review: 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (March 30, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0061773969
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:5 stars! Loved it!

"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."

The first chapter of this murder novel is absolutely fantastic, smacking of an old fashioned novel steeped in intrigue and nostalgia. It was pure genius and had me hooked, as I plowed through the rest of the story which was steeping with mystery, drama and multiple intrigues. This is a novel that is based on the true story of a horrific murder in 1857, amidst Dick Tracy style policemen and the thriving city of New York. Bond Street, to be exact, was the fashionable focal point of houses for the rich and well-to-do folks of New York City.
One of the these residents was Dr. Harvey Burdell, who lived at 31 Bond Street, and Ellen Horan's novel begins with the young errand boy, John, finding his employer the dentist Dr. Burdell brutally stabbed in his office. Dr. Burdell had a young lady, Emma Cunningham and her daughters, boarding upstairs in his house and of course all suspicion is directed at her. Emma pleas for help from the local criminal attorney, Mr. Henry Clinton, because she has been sequestered at 31 Bond Street without representation. The prosecutor is out for justice, and his fingers point to Emma.
Newspaper clipping of 31 Bond Street House
Butchery on Bond Street (source) Click Picture to enlarge
I must confess, before my passion for European historical fiction on royalty overtook my reading habits, I once could be found reading only Lawrence Block, James Patterson, Lee Child, Mary Higgins Clark and Anne Rule. If you enjoy those writers, you will also be enamored with this novel by Ellen Horan. Imagine my glee with this blast from my reading past, for a well honed murder mystery that is a true story, set in the state where I grew up, and where the case remains hanging in suspense as it is unsolved to this day. Ellen Horan stumbled on this story while browsing through bins in a print shop and found a clipping regarding nearby Houston Street, NYC, one thing led her to another, and we now finally have this fascinating look into a murder mystery that took place within a row of townhouses that are no longer there, replaced by the growth of retail and warehouses and parking lots. Instead of writing the intended non-fiction work on this murder mystery, Ellen Horan adapted this into a much more dramatic fictional tale. She leaves a few of the original characters in, but embellishes greatly and adds her own twists to the story. Since I had absolutely no idea about the 'true story' I was completely and utterly enthralled with this fictional tale as Ellen Horan spins it.

I can understand though, that those who prefer to stick close to facts when dealing with a true-crime situation, may be a little annoyed at the fictional leaps that the author takes. Since I was not looking for a realistic account of the murder at this time, this novel kept me entertained for an entire Sunday, refusing to let me sleep until I finished it. I am so glad I spent my Sunday on this, and I will spend some more time googling for more interesting twists and facts that really happened between this murder mystery involving the dentist and the widow. A classic who-dunit.. of who was the real victim, and who was the villian?

I was very impressed with the writing style of this debut author, as I was both immersed in the visual time period of 1857 that Horan vividly describes, and with the characters that Ellen Horan portrays. Doubly enticing were the backstories of slave trade and the corrupt police departments. The murder victim, Dr. Harvey Burdell, is also portrayed as being a total loser who was a womanizer and knee-deep with the aforementioned corruption which includes transporting slaves. The accused murderess, Emma Cunningham, is one where you really couldn't tell what was going on in that warped head. Since the true murder mystery remains unsolved to this day, I have a feeling that not a lot of people could tell what was going on inside of Emma Cunningham's head. The epilogue was quite interesting as well, but even that leaves out some of the critical factors that occurred in the case.

My absolute favorite characters were Samuel, the negro driver to Dr. Burdell, and John, the 11 year old boy who was the errand boy. But still high on that list was the defense attorney, Henry Clinton, who was portrayed as a shrewd attorney without an unethical bone in his body. The author inserts his wife within the novel, when in reality they did not marry until after the case, and it was with similar subtle changes that Ellen Horan used to make her novel her own, creating a sensational blend of murder, passion and suspense. Emma Cunningham also only has two daughters in the story, when in reality it was reported that she had five children. The crooked district attorney, Oakley Hall, was indeed crooked in real life, though (surprise!). For those wanting a strictly-the-facts type of book, there is the non-fiction work that was written in 2007 by New York City historian Benjamin Feldman titled Butchery on Bond Street - Sexual Politics and The Burdell-Cunningham Case in Ante-bellum New York, which has now caught me eye after reading this story. He also runs the blog for where the above clipping was borrowed from.

For those wanting the intriguing drama of a historically themed suspense, this work by Ellen Horan fits that bill perfectly. It was an unforgettably nostalgic journey through 31 Bond Street in New York City that I would not hesitate to recommend to fellow mystery lovers. Visit Ellen's website regarding the book at, none other than: 31 Bond Street.
Pre-Order:

GIVEAWAY!!! I received an extra copy of an Advanced Reader's Copy of 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan!
Lucky you!
To win this ARC comment telling me what is one of your favorite mysteries, whether it is a specific book or a case that has peaked your interest. Don't forget to comment with your email address. I will choose randomly from those that qualify on March 27, 2010. USA only.

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