31 Bond Street

Written by Ellen Horan
Review by Lisa Ann Verge

Ellen Horan makes an impressive debut with 31 Bond Street, a novelized depiction of a sensational murder investigation in mid-19th century New York City.

When Doctor Burdell, a prominent Manhattan dentist, is found nearly decapitated in his own office, the young widow Ellen Cunningham swiftly becomes the prime suspect. The politically ambitious District Attorney immediately sequesters the pretty housekeeper at the scene of the crime, convenes a jury, and begins interviewing witnesses. Fortunately for Ms. Cunningham, a young lawyer by the name of Henry Clinton becomes morally outraged by the trampling of her constitutional rights, and takes up her cause at great risk to his career. It soon becomes evident that the investigators are more interested in protecting shady hidden interests than discovering who actually committed the murder, and Mr. Clinton has his hands full fighting for his publicly slandered client in a court case followed, word-by-word, in the scandal sheets of the day.

Ms. Horan details the development of the case while skillfully weaving in the story of how Ellen Cunningham became involved with the dentist. The result is a perfect mix of legal drama and emotional intensity, as well as a true portrait of the difficulties of being a widowed mother of two in a period of time when women had few career options. Some of the characters are so keenly drawn, particularly Henry Clinton—the real-life defending lawyer—and his quick-thinking, supportive wife, that it gives rise to speculation as to whether Ms. Horan intends to showcase them in a whole new series. Brava to Ms. Horan for developing great characters, depicting a gritty and energetic pre-Civil War New York, and writing a page-turning story that this reader devoured in one heady gulp.