Tuesday, August 3, 2010

31 BOND STREET - Ellen Horan

FIRST LINE: "For a boy who watched boats, his room was the perfect perch."

In 1856 New York, widow Emma Cunningham meets and falls in love with Doctor Harvey Burdell. She and her daughters move into his home to manage the house and staff until, as Harvey promised, they would be married. But the longer she is in his home, the more Emma learns about the unsavory ways of Dr. Burdell. And on the fateful night of January 31, 1857, Dr Harvey Burdell is viciously murdered, leaving Emma Cunningham as the prime - and only - suspect.

Henry Clinton gives up his comfortable life in a law practice with James Armstrong to strike out on his own and defend Emma Cunningham from the charges made against her. Clinton believes every person is entitled to representation and while no one else will go near the case, he attacks it with all the gusto his limited resources can afford.

Told in alternating segments of flashback and present, Horan slowly reveals the lives of Harvey Burdell and Emma Cunningham over the course of their year together.

31 BOND STREET is a fascinating legal mystery of historical fiction and Horan manages to build the plot by adding new questions and conflicts to Emma Cunningham's case as the book progresses. Instead of presenting all the factors at the front end, she divvies them out bit by bit, so the result doesn't so much unfold as the story goes along but rather it reveals itself in its entirety at the conclusion. This allows her to build the characters and keep the reader guessing.

31 BOND STREET is based on the actual murder of Harvey Burdell and the trial of Emma Cunningham for that murder. Horan reminds us through this tale of the horrors slavery was perpetrating on the nation, even the Northern segment of the country. The tale is also a reminder of the struggles of women during this time period. The rules of society and the limits placed on women left many at the mercy of men. Horan contrasts the characters of Elizabeth Clinton, Henry's wife, with Emma Cunningham. Both strong women in a time period that worked to hold them down. Elizabeth influenced and supported her husband who in turn respected and admired her. Emma, however, had to scratch and claw her way into a life that did nothing but betray her. She also worked very hard to provide for her daughters, so that hopefully they wouldn't have to experience what she did.

I am not a scholar in this time period, so some of my questions may be due to a lack of knowledge, but I had have questions about a few details in the book. The details for the most part were inconsequential, but one detail related to a completely fictional character would have had a large impact on the plot. I can't share it without creating a spoiler, but I'll simply add that it wasn't enough to make me not enjoy the book.

31 BOND STREET was a fun read and it kept me guessing to the end.

My review is the final stop on the 31 BOND STREET blog tour through TLC Book Tours. And as a special part of this tour, there is a contest and you could win truffles from Bond Street Chocolates in New York. After you've read the book, visit the site here and cast who you think should play the characters in the movie version of 31 BOND STREET. The three entries closest to Ellen Horan's choices will win handmade chocolate and truffles. Pretty nice prize!

31 BOND STREET is available from Harper in hardcover (ISBN 978-0-06-177396-9).

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Jenn's Bookshelves August 3, 2010 at 8:06 AM  

This book has been on my wish list for some time. All the reviews I've read about it lately want me to read it even more!

S. Krishna August 3, 2010 at 9:25 AM  

Glad you enjoyed this one, I need to read and review it at some point!

bermudaonion August 3, 2010 at 9:27 AM  

Sounds good - I like books that keep me guessing. The fact that this is based on a real event intrigues me.

Dorte H August 3, 2010 at 3:14 PM  

Usually I don´t like novels based on real crime, but your review sounds very tempting.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick August 4, 2010 at 12:05 AM  

1800s New York AND a murder mystery? Oh, yes, I'll be tracking this one down!! :)

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