31 Bond Street: A Novel

( 39 )

Overview

Who killed Dr. Harvey Burdell in his opulent Manhattan town house?

At once a gripping mystery and a richly detailed excavation of a lost age, 31 Bond Street is a spellbinding tale of murder, sex, greed, and politics in 1857 New York. Author Ellen Horan interweaves fact and fiction—reimagining the sensational nineteenth-century crime that rocked the city a few short years before the Civil War ripped through the fabric of the nation, while ...

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31 Bond Street: A Novel

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Overview

Who killed Dr. Harvey Burdell in his opulent Manhattan town house?

At once a gripping mystery and a richly detailed excavation of a lost age, 31 Bond Street is a spellbinding tale of murder, sex, greed, and politics in 1857 New York. Author Ellen Horan interweaves fact and fiction—reimagining the sensational nineteenth-century crime that rocked the city a few short years before the Civil War ripped through the fabric of the nation, while transporting readers back to a time that eerily echoes our own.

Though there are no clues to the brutal slaying of wealthy Dr. Burdell, suspicion quickly falls on Emma Cunningham, the refined, pale-skinned widow who managed his house and servants. An ambitious district attorney seeks a swift conviction, but defense attorney Henry Clinton is a formidable obstacle—a man firmly committed to justice and the law, and to the cause of a frightened, vulnerable woman desperately trying to save herself from the gallows.

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Editorial Reviews

Ron Rash
“31 BOND STREET is an impressive blend of imagination and history as it vividly brings to life one of New York’s City’s most notorious crimes. Ellen Horan has written a novel that, once begun, will be difficult for any reader to put down.”
BookPage
“This thrilling book becomes not only a murder mystery, but a Wharton-esque examination of the mores and customs of antebellum New York society. . . . Rich with historical detail, 31 BOND STREET is one of the best debut novels in a long while.”
BookPage
"This thrilling book becomes not only a murder mystery, but a Wharton-esque examination of the mores and customs of antebellum New York society. . . . Rich with historical detail, 31 BOND STREET is one of the best debut novels in a long while."
Ron Rash
"31 BOND STREET is an impressive blend of imagination and history as it vividly brings to life one of New York’s City’s most notorious crimes. Ellen Horan has written a novel that, once begun, will be difficult for any reader to put down."
Publishers Weekly
A real-life New York City murder case provides the basis for Horan's impressive fiction debut, which works better as a historical novel than as a whodunit. In 1857, Manhattan is horrified and fascinated by a grisly crime—the murder of dentist Harvey Burdell, found on his office floor stabbed more than a dozen times and with his throat cut. The ambitious district attorney, Oakey Hall, who's linked with the Tammany Hall political machine, quickly focuses on Emma Cunningham as the prime suspect. Cunningham, the victim's housekeeper, claims that she and Burdell were secretly married. Her sole hope for avoiding conviction for murder is crusading defense attorney Henry Clinton. Horan alternates deftly between the present and flashbacks to Cunningham's past, capturing both the complex inner lives of her characters and the feel of the times. She also creates exciting courtroom scenes, but some may find the mystery's resolution disappointing. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
Horan brings to life a sensational 19th-century New York City murder trial in which a woman is accused of viciously killing her husband. Emma Cunningham, a widow with two daughters, has recently settled at 31 Bond St. as head housekeeper to the mysterious Dr. Harvey Burdell, a dental surgeon with a penchant for making crooked real-estate deals. Her "housekeeping" duties are fairly light and disguise the fact that Burdell occasionally summons her to his bed and that he intends to marry her, or so he says. When one morning a young lad-of-all-work discovers Burdell's body, with numerous gashes and an almost-severed head, District Attorney Oakey Hall, hoping to grandstand his way to the mayor's mansion, wastes little time in accusing Emma. Motive is supplied by a recently discovered wedding license testifying to Harvey and Emma's marriage some two weeks before the murder, so it looks as though his land holdings will go to his wife rather than to his venal siblings. Emma, however, is just as startled as anyone about the existence of this document, which seems an obvious forgery, especially since the minister who performed the ceremony has a hazy memory of the bride and groom. (Perhaps Harvey has done this to give himself legal custody of the dowry of Emma's 18-year-old daughter Augusta and thus to consummate a large and illegal transaction involving potentially valuable swampland in New Jersey.) To the rescue comes Henry Clinton, an up-and-coming defense lawyer, a kind of 19th-century Atticus Finch. He's convinced of Emma's innocence and disgusted with Hall's smarmy and politically motivated prosecution. Another mystery involves the disappearance of Samuel, Burdell's black servant, and theappearance of Katuma, a Native American who feels resentful that his tribe's land has been appropriated by whites. An engaging mix of fact and fiction, with a juicy trial, sensationalistic reporters and lots of local urban color.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061773976
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 543,217
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Ellen Horan

Ellen Horan has worked as a studio artist and as a photo editor for magazines and books in New York City. She lives in downtown Manhattan, the setting of her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 39 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(12)

4 Star

(11)

3 Star

(11)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 13, 2010

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    I Also Recommend:

    Good Mystery

    I really enjoyed this story and found myself drawn in page by page. With an interesting cast of characters, this book really kept me guessing until the end. I was a little let down by the resolution of the story, but the reading journey getting there was well worth the time to invest in this book. Great depiction of the times, which certainly made me happy that I didn't live in that time period! Anyone who enjoys historical mysteries should like this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

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    Address For Murder

    I know you've heard it before, but this is a real page turner. It is a fictionalized account of a truly brutal murder that made headlines for more than three months in New York during 1857. In this pre-Civil War era, there was already plenty of intrigue concerning the gross treatment of women, the working class, and free blacks and runaway slaves. All of which made up a substantial part of the population of New York. To say that corruption in the local government was running rampant would be an understatement. Drop into this simmering pot a savage murder of a seemingly respectable dentist in his locked house; swindled business partners; alienated relatives; a sexy widow, who was his housekeeper and possible lover; politicians with their own agendas; a missing black man who was the victim's coachman, and you have a great story.
    The author skillfully leads the reader through a did she or didn't she kill her lover scenario. The preparations for the trial of the mistress and its subsequent revelations are counter played against glimpses of the events that lead up to the murder which took place at 31 Bond Street. Although Mrs Cunningham is the prosecution's focus for the crime, there is certainly no lack of alternate suspects. A very skillfully executed historical murder mystery.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 2, 2011

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    An Absorbing Mystery

    "31 Bond Street" by Ellen Horan is a his­tor­i­cal fic­tion novel tak­ing place in 1857 New York City. The book fol­lows the noto­ri­ous trial of Emma Cun­ning­ham for the mur­der of her land­lord Dr. Har­vey Bur­dell, a famous dentist.

    Emma Cunningham is a widow with two daughters who is lodging in 31 Bond Street, NYC - the residence of Dr. Harvey Burdell. One fine morning the household wakes up to the horrific news that the doctor has been murdered in his room - with no signs of forced entry.

    The immediate suspicion falls on Mrs. Cunningham who has to be defended against an aggressive and corrupt district attorney who has big political ambitions and his minions. Attorney Henry Clinton (YES!!! That one) takes up the case of Mrs. Cunningham, but as everything in life, it is not clear cut.

    "31 Bond Street" by Ellen Horan is an enjoyable book which, for me, was hard to categorize. It is a bit historical fiction, a bit a mystery and a bit court room drama - I guess a legal mystery might fit the bill.

    The story is actually based on an actual murder case from 1857 and several of the characters are people who actually lived and were involved. Yet several others are not - Ms. Horan makes it clear who's who at the end of the book in the "Author's Note" section (which I find as a big plus in any historical fiction book).

    I quite enjoyed the historical aspects of the book, the class system n NYC and the "if it bleeds it dies" sensationalistic media. It is amazing how little has changed, even today the media can hang on a sensationalistic case, completely blowing it out of proportions and like good little lap dogs we eat it all up (the O.J. Simpson case for example).

    The book juxtaposed between the investigation, court case and flashbacks to Emma's relationship with Mr. Burdell where she was a "housemistress", in today's terms she'd be a live-in lover which didn't get to much respect in the 1850s. There is some Upstairs/Downstairs (showing my age?) quality to how Emma talks and acts with Mr. Burdell's servants and their defiance to take orders from her.

    The famous lawyer Mr. Clinton (No, not that one) was, for me, the main protagonist of the book. Mr. Clinton (Not that one either) was Mrs. Cunningham defense attorney and I had a fun time following his thought process (albeit fictional) about the trial and hist strategy.

    The book is absorbing and the blend of fact and fiction is fascinating. While the fascinating characters are well drawn and the narrative is well written, the real star of the book is 1850's New York City society. The rich doctor, poor widow, the black groom who is an abolitionist and knows he's not safe in the north, the poor 11 year old boy who works to support his family, the way marriage are arranged even though one of the betrothed is disagreeable are all absorbing and . the status qua. Ms. Horan doesn't try to shock us into thinking that pushing a 19 year old into an undesirable marriage is an unforgivable sin, quite the opposite - the sin is that she refuses the arrangement.

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  • Posted February 10, 2011

    Sex, Murder & Corruption 1857-Style

    Based on the true story of the sensational murder of a prominent NYC dentist in 1857, Ellen Horan weaves the tale of the woman who stood trial for her alleged husband's killing with rich layers of political, social, & popular history. Pre-Civil-War Gotham comes alive in ways that feel at once timely & timeless: the media feeding frenzy that surrounded the trial would have had the net & networks buzzing had they existed at the time; sex & gender roles come into play in ways that still feel familiar; the corruption & shady politics of the day add drama along with attitudes towards different ethnicities & class distinctions. It's a lush expanse of intrigue & travel back in time. Beverly Swerling, author of "City of God", referred to "31 Bond Street" as "Caleb Carr meets Scott Trurow," & she wasn't off the mark.

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  • Posted September 3, 2010

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    For historical fiction and mystery fans. Excellent!

    This book is a wonderful blend of mystery, courtroom drama and historical fiction. It's based on the true story of Dr. Harvey Burdell's grisly murder in 1857. I enjoyed it immensely from start to finish. Horan takes a very clever approach to unveiling the events leading up to the murder and revealing the outcome of the trial. She narrates the book from two perspectives and at the same time moves back and forth between the past and the present. The format flows beautifully, one time line fills in the history of the relationship between Dr Burdell and Emma, his accused murderer and divulges their character traits and background information. The other discloses the details of the murder, it's aftermath, the roughshod legal process and the trial. Although the author does provide for several likely suspects, the looming question is the guilt or innocence of Emma. The story brings pre-civil war NYC to life, explores the role of women, exposes the flaws of the legal system and presents fascinating historical information on the prevailing corruption, greed, and political power struggles. In short a fabulous story for those who love historical fiction, mysteries, or crime novels and a marvelous debut. I am looking forward to more from this author. FYI, Rumor has it, there is a movie in the works.

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  • Posted July 23, 2010

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    Riveting historical drama in Old New York!

    31 Bond Street succeeds as a mystery and as unique glimpse into Old New York. Ellen Horan has carefully researched the period, the trial, and the characters that make up this book and this comes across from the very start. She weaves in details about daily life in the 1850s and makes it come alive.

    Henry Clinton who defends Emma Cunningham is a talented defense lawyer who goes on to become the highest paid attorney of his time -- and it is this case that changed his career. Clinton goes up against Abraham Oakey Hall is another historical figure who is later elected mayor of New York in 1868. Clinton is aided by his wife, Elizabeth Clinton, who is a paragon of a wife and would have made a formidable attorney, had women been allowed to practice law during that time. Horan created the character of Elizabeth Clinton and this woman is a foil to the accused, Emma Cunningham. Cunningham's story shows us how difficult it was to be a woman then.

    The book stood out for me because of the attention that Horan placed on capturing the historical details of the period. I enjoyed being able to imagine New York of that time -- what the different neighborhoods and peoples were like. I loved learning just how trials were run at that time. Would you have expected that newspapermen attended trial and wrote the trial transcripts for free? In exchange, the newspaper was given the exclusive right to print the trial transcripts. Horan reveals what it would have been like to be in court then.

    The book itself captures the period because of its slower pace, vivid descriptions, and the dialogue. It is easy to imagine New York after the Civil War, the sort of life available to a young widow with dwindling resources and the trouble that Emma Cunningham found herself in. Just as the book is about Emma Cunningham, it is equally the story of the Clintons, their legal skill, and the trial that changed their lives. If you enjoy historical fiction, stories of New York, or mysteries and legal thrillers, 31 Bond Street will prove a riveting read.

    ISBN-10: 0061773964 - Hardcover
    Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (March 30, 2010), 352 pages.
    Review copy provided by the publisher.

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  • Posted July 20, 2010

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    I Also Recommend:

    A tale of old NY

    With all the trappings of a stuffy Victorian novel, 31 Bond Street got off to a pretty lame start with me, but I stuck with it. It wasn't long before Horan had me hooked! Nothing in this book is what it seems to be! Read this book closely, and don't lose track of people or places, and even then I think you will find yourself .... interested by the conclusion. I did have a little grumble with the shifting timeline in this book; one that goes back and forth between the day of the murder (not a plotbuster - it happens in the very first chapter), summer at the resort, and the ongoing investigation. That said, it was a good read. I'll look for more.

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  • Posted July 3, 2010

    An enjoyable read - but could have been so much more

    The story was good, because it was true but it doesn't compare to the writing and depth of the Alienist. Stunned that there was ever a comparison made in the promotion of the book. It's impossible to get into the detail that would have made this a really good story in just 300 pages. It was a fast read and interesting, but there was too much going on and not enough character depth.. I think it should have had a theme and not just a fictionalized historical truth... she could have talked about it from the perspective of how badly women were treated, or how unsophisticated the American legal system was, or the landscape of America at the time... I just would have liked see better character development.

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  • Posted May 24, 2010

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    31 Bond Street

    31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan is based on a real event that happened in lower Manhattan in 1857. Dentist, Dr. Harvey Burdell is found murdered in his own home and the only suspect is Emma Cunningham, his house manager and possibly his wife. Horan has taken this little know event and created an intriguing tale of murder and life in NYC during that time. It was an admirable first novel, although I felt the characters need to be developed more.

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    Fictional Account Of True Event

    When Dr Burdell is murdered in his townhome in Manhattan, Emma Cunningham, the woman who manages his house is suspected. Prosecutor Hall is out to get her. When Mr Clinton decides to defend her and the nefarious dealings of Dr Burdell's past start to come to life, the story gets interesting. There are a variety of people who could benefit from his death. Good plot with lots of twists and turns. I have been recommending this book about 1857 New York City to all my friends.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    So-so book

    It was good enough that I finished the book, which says something. But the plot felt contrived & it didn't have any enpathetic characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2010

    A CURL UP AND ENJOY READ!!!

    GREAT CHARACTERS, AND A WELL THOUGHT OUT PLOT. AND VIVID VIEW OF THE TIMES!!! I just wish there were more great stories like this out there.

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  • Posted April 3, 2010

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    A FASCINATING BLEND OF FACT AND FICTION

    A totally absorbing blend of fact and fiction is found in Ellen Horan's stellar debut 31 BOND STREET. Basing her story on what the 19th century called the crime of the century Horan competently moves between past and present to draw deft pictures of the individuals involved in a trial that held not only New York City but the entire world in thrall.

    It was February of 1857 that brought "the worst, the very worst, wintry gale ever experienced in the city..." It was also when a young hired boy found the body of Dr. Harvey Burdell. The doctor's throat had been so viciously slashed that his head was almost severed from his body.

    In that day and time it was not uncommon for a bachelor such as Dr. Burdell to lease the upper part of his commodious townhouse to a widow who would see to the management of the house and servants. In this case Dr. Burdell had chosen Emma Cunningham, a comely woman of 36 with teenage daughters, Helen and Augusta. But more than leasing a portion of the home Emma evidently believed she would receive Burdell's marriage proposal.

    After Dr. Burdell's killing Emma becomes the prime suspect and embarks on a struggle to save her very life with the assistance of attorney, Henry Clinton. With judicious use of historical records Horan brings the ensuing trial to compelling life. She also reminds us of the figures and elements affecting so many at that time - Tammany Hall, widespread corruption, the Fugitive Slave Acts. Horan's narrative is so skillful that it's as if curtains had been drawn and we see Manhattan in 1857, and are witnesses to the events of that time.

    - Gail Cooke

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  • Posted March 20, 2010

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    his is a terrific pre Civil War legal thriller

    In 1857 New York City residents are fascinated with the brutal murder of dentist Harvey Burdell. The victim had his throat slashed to the point that he was nearly beheaded. Numerous stab wounds were inflicted all over his body.

    Seeing an opportunity to further his political ambitions Manhattan District Attorney Oakey decides Burdell's upstairs neighbor at 31 Bond Street townhouse, the widow Emma Cunningham killed the dentist. The mother of two daughters insists she was Burdell's lawful wife, but the prosecution insists she was a rejected lover who passionately killed her paramour. Her only hope to avoid conviction resides with defense attorney Henry Clinton.

    This is a terrific pre Civil War legal thriller that reads more like a superb historical than a whodunit. Readers obtain a deep look at Manhattan at a time when a slave scandal has rocked the city. Rotating between the days following the murder and flashbacks into the lives of the key cast members, fans will feel they have gone back in time as Ellen Horan captures the essence of the era.

    Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 11, 2010

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    I Also Recommend:

    An intriguing murder mystery, skillfully executed.

    In 1857 a man named Harvey Burdell, a seemingly upstanding New York dentist, was brutally murdered in the middle of the night. His throat was sliced, nearly severing his head, and he was fiercely stabbed several times through his back and chest. The crime scene was bloody, but no evidence of the murder weapon or culprit was ever found. Living on the upper floors of Burdell's wealthy 31 Bond Street townhouse are the widow Emma Cunningham and her children. As the only household member with motive present at the time of Burdell's death, Emma became the prime suspect and the victim of a witch-hunt-like prosecution.

    Over 150 years later Ellen Horan, wandering through scrap bins in a print shop, comes across an old newspaper article with an etching of the avenue of Bond Street, showing a crowd of people milling around number 31. Intrigued, Horan researches the story regarding the murder, and skillfully puts down on paper a tale of intrigue, suspense, betrayal, and murder. All set in the bustling town of New York amid slave-trade scandals and the high-class expectations of the wealthy.

    Well crafted, with experienced execution, 31 Bond Street is a delicious debut novel that exhibits the author's talent with an intriguing narrative. Told in a non-linear fashion, we begin on February 1, 1857, the day after the murder, and then go back in time seven months to follow Emma Cunningham, her two daughters, and the path they took to wind up on Bond Street under the roof of Harvey Burdell. Horan switches back and forth, tantalizingly leading us up to the actual murder, but leaving us frothing with questions as she nimbly skips forward to the trial at hand.

    The way Horan chose to portray the characters is realistic and believable. Harvey Burdell is painted as a charming bachelor at first, but a seedy background and double-handed schemes soon darken his portrait. Henry Clinton, Emma's lawyer, is compassionate and dedicated, seceding from his prestigious law firm to defend Emma. Additional characters such as Samuel, the near-slave coachman, and John, the poor scrap of a house boy, add to the legitimacy of the time period and elicit our emotional connection with the novel. Emma herself is a mystery, at times I sympathized for her plight, at others I questioned her bad decisions and naiveté.

    In all, I was swept away in a believable interpretation of what could actually have happened back in 1857. Horan displays a fine skill at weaving historical fiction, as well as a murder mystery with believable scenarios. I am definitely interested to see what genre she should choose to write next.

    4 stars

    (I received this book from the author for review)

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