23 March 2011

Book Review: 31 Bond Street

Title: 31 Bond Street
Author: Ellen Horan
Publisher/Year: Harper Perennial / 2010
Date Finished: 18 March 2011
Source/Format: TLC Book Tours / Print

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

The Short and Sweet of It
Centered on the trial of Emma Cunningham, accused of murdering Dr. Harvey Burdell, 31 Bond Street is an intriguing blend of murder-mystery and historical fiction.

A Bit of a Ramble
Horan blends historical fact with clever imagination in this mystery novel. The murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell was touted as the crime of the century back in 1857, and the mystery surrounding his death captured the imagination of a New York embroiled in corruption and on the brink of Civil War. With such a scandalous crime at its core, 31 Bond Street could easily be nothing more than a murder-mystery, but Horan doesn't shy away from the corruption, race issues, and gender issues of the day.

The complex weaving of these ideas mirrors the plot structure. Alternating between the time after the murder and the time leading up to the murder, the story really kept me interested, the pace keeping me on my toes. Both stories were well constructed, offering just enough doubt about the actions and motivations of characters to keep things interesting but not annoying. And the characters themselves are a varied blend of 19th century New York from middle class lawyers to rich white politicians to Native Americans.

All that being said, I'm not without a few complaints. I admit that from time to time I yearned for a bit more scandal. The original case was extremely colorful, more sensational than what Horan has chosen to portray in her novel. I do wonder why since dirt such as was thrown about during the real trial tends to sell. My only guess is that Horan wanted time to focus on the more intellectually-ponderous issues instead of spending all her time on the spectacle of the situation. My other meh moment occurred at the end - no worries, no real spoilers here. The way the mystery wrapped up didn't feel right considering all which had come before in the novel. This too could have been the result of the secondary issue presented in the text - racial tension.

Despite my qualms, I really enjoyed reading this, and I have a niggling wish for it to be made into a movie. The setting is wonderfully atmospheric and the characters are so compelling that I really think it would do well on the big screen.

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

Check out the other reviews for 31 Bond Street through TLC Book Tours!

I would love to pass on my copy to a dedicated reader and reviewer, so if you are interested, leave a comment with your email and in a week, a random number generator will decide on a winner!


  1. Would like to be counted in for the win! Thanks for sharing.


  2. If I didn't have a billion books waiting for me to read, I might throw my name in there. I love the time period. It's like ready-made atmosphere. Your concerns though concern me too. I might have the same issues.

  3. I have been a bit curious about this book, and reading your take on it was wonderful! I am not sure if this one would work for me based on what I have heard, because I am sure that I would prefer a little more of the sensationalism. I just had hoped for a little more flash from this book.

  4. I wonder how this would compare to ALIAS GRACE - have you read that one? Or what about THUNDERSTRUCK? It reminds me of both, but though I loved the first book I didn't love the second one. Still, I think I'll give this one a shot as it does sound interesting.

    Thanks for being on the tour Trisha.

  5. I read this over the summer. I was interested because it was based on real events, and I wanted to like it. However, the superfluous story (the fictionalized part) din't work for me at all, and I didn't find it added to the story in any way. I think a lot more could have been done with what she actually had. I think a nonfiction account (written sort of like Swanson's Manhunt) would have been much more interesting.

    Sorry to be all negative. I was fascinated by the story - just didn't love it in the end.

  6. I am surprised I found the book riveting, a page turner to the end. I had seen so many glowing reviews, and loved the background and locations and thoughts of the characters inserted to make the novel feel real to me. It felt much more real than a history book.

  7. Sounds like fun, although it does strike me as odd she'd play down the scandal of it. I suspect if it were nonfiction, the opposite might have happened. Either way, sounds interesting!

  8. Well, it must be pretty good if you'd like to see a movie version of it.

  9. This does sound like it would be a good movie!

  10. I go back and forth on whether I want to read this one. Your review has made me want to read it!!!


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