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31 Bond Street
Ellen Horan

Harper Perennial
2011 / ISBN 9780061773976
Historical Mystery / NYC / 1857

Reviewed by LJ Roberts

First Sentence: For a boy who watched boats, his room was the perfect perch.

The brutal murder of well-to-do dentist, Dr. Burdell, immediately places his housekeeper, Emma Cunningham as the prime suspect. Attorney Henry Clinton parts ways with his respected law partner and, with the support of his wife and the help of others, sets out to prove Emma’s innocence.

From a very good opening which establishes the sense of time place the impact of the weather and the demeanor of the characters, this compelling story proved very difficult to put down, even for meals and life’s necessities. Horan provides a fascinating look at the justice system and New York City during this period leading up to the Civil War when free blacks in the North were being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. It is always interesting to gain a picture of society live, and the concerns of women; the workings of the house and meals of the period. But it is as equally interesting look at investigative methods, techniques and forensics of the time.

The story is told in duality; something which can be awkward as one thread is often stronger/more interesting than the other. That is not the case here. One thread begins with the crimes and moves through the trial, while the other provides the background of the characters leading up to the crime. Ms. Horan does a remarkable job of keeping both stories equally fascinating and distinct. At no point does one wish to get through the current segment into order to return to the other thread. That is very rare indeed and not only does each thread holds its own, but the suspense contained within each builds at an equal pace. That exhibits remarkable skill by the writer.

While many legal thrillers today spend more time being thrillers, this really does focus on the legal process of the time, yet it is driven by the characters who are fully developed and alive. There was not a superfluous character in the story; each added weight and merit. In some ways, one could say the story has two villains and two victims, both being the same characters at different times. The heroes, if you will, are quite unexpected and unusual.

The plot is excellent with very effective twists, plenty of suspense and a dash of tragedy. The author paints visual pictures that take the reader through all the story’s locals both attractive and foul. There is an unexpected revelation and even unanticipated motive.

While I don’t usually care for books based on a true crime, 31 Bond Streetis an excellent book with exceptional writing.

Review 2: 31 Bond Street
Reviewed 2011
© 2011