Historical Fiction: 31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan

4.0 out of 5 stars The sting

The 1850’s. Manhattan’s elite are only just setting out to make 5th Avenue their enclave. The rest of the population is simply trying to earn a living. Displaced Native Americans, runaway or freed slaves, and unmarried women are particularly vulnerable to the twists and turns of fortune. Emma Cunningham, mother of two adolescent daughters, is desperately searching for a man to replace their now deceased father. Emma believes she has found him in prosperous dentist Harvey Burdell, who wines and dines her, invites her and her family to move into his townhouse, and convinces her to invest her daughter’s dowry on land on the Jersey waterfront. Alas, one winter evening, Dr. Burdell is stabbed to death, and Emma is brought to trial for his murder.

Interspersing investigation and court scenes with flashbacks to Emma’s relationship with Burdell, 31 Bond Street recounts the story of Emma’s defense by Attorney Henry Clinton, who has risked his career and his livelihood to help her. This is anything but a straightforward case, although that’s what the DA would like people to believe. Were Emma and her dentist married? What happened to Burdell’s coachman, Samuel, the last person to see him alive? Was Burdell an upstanding citizen or a con artist who preyed upon women?

Author Horan ends her novel with summaries of the lives of the principals following the trial’s dramatic conclusion. Relying upon the historical record, she seems to have deftly accomplished the difficult task of fictionalizing a real event without distorting the facts.

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