Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery

Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery

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by Paul Collins
     
 

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BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE EDGAR FINALIST, MURDER OF THE CENTURY

In the closing days of 1799, the United States was still a young republic. Waging a fierce battle for its uncertain future were two political parties: the well-moneyed Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the populist Republicans, led by Aaron Burr. The two

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Overview

BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE EDGAR FINALIST, MURDER OF THE CENTURY

In the closing days of 1799, the United States was still a young republic. Waging a fierce battle for its uncertain future were two political parties: the well-moneyed Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the populist Republicans, led by Aaron Burr. The two finest lawyers in New York, Burr and Hamilton were bitter rivals both in and out of the courtroom, and as the next election approached, their animosity reached a crescendo. 
             
But everything changed when beautiful, young Elma Sands was found dead the Manhattan Well. The horrific crime quickly gripped the nation, and before long accusations settled on one of Elma’s suitors, handsome young carpenter Levi Weeks. As the enraged city demanded a noose be draped around the accused murderer’s neck, the only question seemed to be whether Levi would make it to trial or be lynched first. The young man’s only hope was to hire a legal dream team. And thus it was that New York’s most bitter political rivals and greatest attorneys did the unthinkable—they teamed up.

At once an absorbing legal thriller and an expertly crafted portrait of the United States in the time of the Founding Fathers, Duel with the Devil is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
NPR’s “literary detective” once again applies his skills as a historian to a now-obscure crime that was a cause célèbre in its day. With a novelist’s touch, Collins (The Murder of the Century) opens with the January 1800 discovery of a woman’s body in a Manhattan well, before flashing back six months to provide the back-story to that grim find. The victim proves to be Elma Sands, a Quaker woman who had disappeared from her lodging house under circumstances that led authorities to suspect carpenter and fellow boarder Levi Weeks. Fortunately for Weeks, his defense fell to two of the most prominent and skilled lawyers of the day—bitter political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, whose later fatal duel casts a somber pall over the suspenseful account of the crime, the trial, and its aftermath. Using the court transcript as a primary source, Collins makes the most of the inherent drama of the case, and goes one step further to unearth convincing proof of the identity of the real killer. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary Agency. (June)
Library Journal
In this latest in a series of curious works from the wide-ranging Collins (The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars), NPR's "literary detective," may have created a new subgenre of early republic true crime. He delves into the true story of Elma Sands's murder in 1799 New York City. When the beautiful Quaker woman's mutilated body was discovered in famed lawyer Aaron Burr's Manhattan well, public outcry rose against the prime murder suspect, her suitor Levi Weeks. Burr joined with his rival Alexander Hamilton to defend Weeks both in the courtroom and to the clamoring public. Not only does Collins provide an absorbing mystery, he also offers an entrancing account of the era's yellow journalism (think Pulitzer and Hearst) while illuminating the legal acumen of two of our country's greatest trial lawyers—and he solves the cold case of Elma Sands's murder to boot. VERDICT With an historian's dedication to detail, Collins brings to life the dusty story discovered in voluminous trial transcripts and newspaper clippings. An entertaining read is in store for those lucky enough to find this book.—Reba Kennedy, San Antonio, TX
Kirkus Reviews
Ostensibly the tale of a dramatic murder trial with three famous defense attorneys, "the first fully recorded murder trial in U.S. history," but actually more of an intriguing exploration of Manhattan in 1799. Collins (The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars, 2012, etc.) ably brings New York to life; this would be a great reference book for authors looking for site descriptions. The author's New York is a fascinating place, one that only covered the southern tip of Manhattan and still had no potable water. The Manhattan Company was commissioned to build a pipeline, and those involved in it were major players on both sides of the crime: the murder of a Quaker woman, Elma Sands. There are many characters in the book, and it takes some time before we can identify the victim and suspect. The defense attorneys, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and Henry Brockholst Livingston, don't appear until halfway through the book. The question of how the plaintiff, a mere carpenter, could afford such a dream team may have something to do with the suspect's builder brother, who happened to hold past-due notes from Burr and Hamilton. Once the trial begins, the narrative truly takes off, as Collins reveals the immense talents of the three attorneys. The story is an interesting view of the new nation struggling to establish its own judicial system, but there's too much extraneous information, such as the life stories of peripheral characters and criminal backgrounds of those who shared the jail with the accused. A rousing tale of the longest murder trial to that date in Manhattan, and the author's conjecture as to the true villain is spot-on--but he should have focused more on the trial.
From the Publisher
“Lively, immediate and dishy in the style of a top-notch tabloid columnist…fizzes with the energy and irreverence of an infant republic…Collins provides a saucy breakdown of the twisty and interlocking interests behind Weeks’ case. This is New York politics in all its gritty glory.” Salon

“In Paul Collins's gripping, true-life courtroom drama, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton form the ultimate team of rivals.” —Parade

“Collins not only skillfully squeezes the maximum juice out the combined history and mystery of his story, but may even have solved the crime.”Christian Science Monitor

“[Collins] paints a rich portrait of post-Revolutionary Manhattan, a muddy little burg wracked by fever and drink, where everyone knew everyone...[A] deft narrative.” —Los Angeles Times

“Collins is a vividly evocative writer who conjures up the atmosphere and emotions of a bygone day...Masterful.” —Washington Times

“In Collins's hands, historic figures stand up and live on the page...A rollicking read.” —Oregnonian

“This is more than an account of an old case; it is an absorbing legal thriller...This is a cold case that has suddenly become quite hot.” —Larry Cox, King Features

“NPR's "literary detective" once again applies his skills as a historian to a now obscure crime that was a cause celebre in its day…Using the court transcript as a primary source, Collins makes the most of the inherent drama of the case, and goes one step further to unearth convincing proof of the identity of the real killer.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
 
“This tautly constructed narrative, infused with period atmosphere, holds the reader’s attention…Collins delivers fine true-crime verisimilitude.”
—Booklist
 
“The author’s New York is a fascinating place [and] once the trial begins, the narrative truly takes off, as Collins reveals the immense talents of the three attorneys…A rousing tale of the longest murder trial to that date in Manhattan…the author’s conjecture as to the true villain is spot-on.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Duel with the Devil begins as a wonderfully creepy historical murder mystery and becomes a riveting story of two acclaimed lawyers battling for justice in an unsympathetic courtroom. But, in the talented hands of author Paul Collins, it also becomes something morea startlingly insightful look at early American history and the men who helped shape a young country. The book delivers on so many levels that you'll find yourself, as I did, reading it more than once.”
Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
 
“A nimble and vividly evocative reconstruction of a long-forgotten New York murder mystery with an unforgettable cast of characters. Duel with the Devil is a fascinating book that unfolds like an early-American episode of Law & Order, with Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr as the celebrity guest stars.”
Gary Krist, author of City of Scoundrels
 
Praise for THE MURDER OF THE CENTURY

"Revealing but also enormously entertaining...Collins has a clear eye, a good sense of telling detail, and a fine narrative ability." Wall Street Journal

"Collins has mined enough newspaper clippings and other archives to artfully re-create the era, the crime, and the newspaper wars it touched off....A riveting account." New York Times

"Collins...brings considerable talent to the project. He has an eye for the wacky relics of the era....In the end, Collins has crafted a book that won't disappoint readers in search of a book like Erik Larson's DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY. THE MURDER OF THE CENTURY is entertaining." Washington Post

"Simply a fantastic, factual yarn, and a reminder that abhorrent violence is nothing new under the sun." Oregonian

"One of the most exciting true crime books of the summer... simply put, this is crime reporting at its very best." King Features Weekly Syndicate

"A wonderful reminder that we have often been just as we are: fools for spectacle, short of memory, cheered by the invigorating shock of the immoral." Willamette Week

"Wonderfully rich in period detail, salacious facts about the case, and infectious wonder at the chutzpah and inventiveness displayed by Pulitzer's and Hearst's minions. Both a gripping true-crime narrative and an astonishing portrait of fin de siècle yellow journalism." Kirkus Reviews

 "No writer better articulates our interest in the confluence of hope, eccentricity, and the timelessness of the bold and strange than Paul Collins." —Dave Eggers

"Paul Collins's account of the headless torso murder that led to an all-out newspaper war and then a dramatic trial has all the timeless elements of a great yarn--a baffling mystery, intriguing suspects, and flawed detectives. It's compelling history that's also great page-turning entertainment." —Howard Blum, author of THE FLOOR OF HEAVEN and AMERICAN LIGHTNING

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307956453
Publisher:
Crown/Archetype
Publication date:
06/04/2013
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
435,372
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

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