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I like to think I’m not a superficial book buyer or reader (I trust you fellow bloggers to tell me about books!), but if I were to buy a book for its cover, I definitely would choose 31 BOND STREET.
Beyond the jacket, the cover language of: “A Novel of Murder, Innocence and Power in New York City” is very compelling. Additionally (like I need another reason), I walk by Bond Street at least once a day, as it’s located between my current apartment in the East Village and just about every other place I go.
Though the house of the “society dentist” in this novel no longer stands, the intersection of Bond Street and Bowery is still a hive of activity, with pedestrians walking and cabs honking all day and well into the night. Though in this novel, the setting of 31 BOND STREET was in many ways a simpler time of horse-drawn carriages, though the simple times didn’t stop evil from rooting.
Based around a murder that stole the newspaper headlines back in 1857, this novel introduces us to the widowed Emma Cunningham, struggling financially while trying to hold her place in society and raise her two daughters (less raising them than trying to rope good husbands). When a summer trip to Saratoga (which sounded like an old-fashioned Hamptons!) introduces Emma to wealthy dentist Harvey Burdell, she thinks her future is accounted for.
Upon moving in to Harvey’s brownstone at (you guessed it) 31 Bond Street, Emma awaits the marriage proposal she thinks is imminent. The short time in this abode, she alienates the servants while making the location more pleasant for her daughter’s suitors. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that while she’s sleeping with Harvey, she may not be next in line to be Mrs. Burdell.
Then Harvey is found brutally murdered, his head almost detached from his neck. With no witnesses, Emma is quickly the only suspect.
Filled with power, corruption and greed, this novel has many strands of historical significance weaving through. From the “good” lawyers to political corruption to issues of slavery and power, it is not only a courtroom drama but a colorful fictional look at a different time.
Beyond the rough-edged paper, my other favorite unique aspect of this book were the fictional clips from The New York Times, which did a wonderful job setting the scene and lending a feeling of legitimacy to the time and place.
While I enjoyed the historical imagery, throughout the book I was disappointed by the lack of emotion felt by all characters. Not once does Emma seem to consider falling in love with Harvey (or anyone else), nor does she seem to have many maternal affections toward her daughters beyond finding them a suitable husband. I found the most feelings to be from the lawyer who seems to accept Emma’s case rather spontaneously and accept the loss of position with a prestigious law firm. I also enjoyed the young character John. Beyond those, I was surprised by how unemotional the book felt, when murder trials typically incite very passionate responses.
This is a wonderful book for readers who appreciate historical details and a setting painted with a talented hand. It really did take me back to a different time period. If you enjoyed Jed Rubenfeld’s THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER you should definitely pick up 31 BOND STREET.
Thank you to TLC Book Blog Tour for planning this tour! Hop over and visit the rest of the tour stops here.