Friday, August 6, 2010

31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

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. (from book jacket)

Based on the true story of the murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell in 1957 New York, this book combines a classic murder mystery, historical fiction, and historical fact.  Add in the social issues of slavery, escaped slaves in the north, and the oncoming Civil War, and you have a story that is hard to describe - and hard to review.

The narrative follows two timelines.  It begins with the murder, then alternates between the events leading up to the crime, and the events following it.  This was hard to follow and I had to be sure to make note of the date given at the beginning of each chapter to know where I was in the story.  Near the end, the first timeline catches up to where the second timeline began - alltogether, nearly as confusing as this paragraph.  There came a point, maybe a third of the way into the book, where I quit worrying about the dates so much and just read.  It all worked out in the end and I was able to keep the events straight in my head.

The plot is fascinating and kept me reading quickly, although I got a bit lost at the end.  There are more insinuations than straight out solutions and it left me feeling a bit confused, but since that's how real life often leaves me, I guess it's to be expected from a novel based on real life.  This was a bit outside my recent "reading box", but I enjoyed the lessons on this era of American history and especially the plight of unattached women.  This book will appeal to history buffs as well as mystery fans.

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