Horan first got the story idea when she came across an actual newspaper page from 1857 in a print shop. It detailed the murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell, found dead at 31 Bond Street in New York City. Horan became fascinated with investigating the case and devoured the newspapers of the time. She has skillfully taken a sensational murder and fictionalized it, using many of the actual parties.
Harvey Burdell's nearly decapitated body is discovered by his young servant boy. No one living in the house claims to have heard a thing. Suspicion quickly falls on Emma Cunningham, Burdell's housekeeper. The city Cornoner immediately takes control, completely sequestering Emma and her two daughters. I found this piece of law fascinating. The Coroner had the right to run the case as he saw fit. The murder scene effectively became a courtroom, with a jury brought in and questioning of witnesses taking place in the home. The press were allowed full access and often took notes for the police.
Horan has created a winning character in lawyer Henry Clinton, who takes on Emma Cunningham as a client. He is dogged and idealistic, willing to use and pursue new forensic methods just coming into practice. I also enjoyed the relationship between Clinton and his wife Elisabeth, as it was much different than social mores would have dictated at the time.
The novel alternates between the present day with Henry Clinton as narrator and what led up to the murder from Emma Cunningham's point of view. We learn a little bit more each time we go back and forth. What Henry and Emma believe aren't quite the same thing. I really enjoyed this format.
Horan's research is meticulous. The details of police work, the law, society, language, mores and New York City itself are captivating. Issues of the time, including slavery and politics also figure into the plot.
For me 31 Bond Street was an absolutely delicious read, combining suspense, mystery and history into a page turner. I was surprised to learn that this was a debut novel. But glad to hear Horan is researching her next.
Read an excerpt of 31 Bond Street. Book Clubs - there is a discussion guide.
Ellen is running a fun contest - Cast the Movie for 31 Bond Street. See how close you come to her choices - win Bond Street Chocolates and a signed first edition.
Fans of Anne Perry's Monk/Pitt series and Caleb Carr's The Alienist would really enjoy 31 Bond Street.
Another great choice - thanks TLC Book Tours.