When I first began noticing reviews for 31 Bond Street , by Ellen Horan, they plot description didn’t really catch my eye. But then I noticed it was based on a true Victorian crime, and at that point I knew I had to read it. Victorian true crime novels are so interesting to me—one of my favorites ever is Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England , by James Ruddick (if you haven’t read it, I urge you to get a copy!)—so I had little doubt that I would appreciate and enjoy 31 Bond Street .
Dr Harvey Burdell is a dentist living on Bond Street when he is discovered brutally murdered one morning. Honestly, he’s not the nicest guy, but citizens are outraged. Such a savage crime is not supposed to happen to the members of the upper echelon of society, so the murder is big news around the city. Meanwhile, Emma Cunningham is a widower boarding with Dr Burdell, along with her two teenaged daughters. She immediately comes under suspicion and is charged with murdering Dr Burdell. She swears upon her innocence and even proffers up a marriage certificate between her and Dr Burdell dated a few weeks previously, but that only adds more fuel to the fire and she is put on trial for murder. The justice system not being what it is now, it appears almost certain that she will be tried and convicted, with the punishment being death.
Henry Clinton, a local lawyer, immediately offers to represent Emma, despite the ramifications it has on his professional life. He quickly becomes enmeshed in the case, despite the fact that he has some reservations as to whether Emma is really innocent as she proclaims. Nevertheless, he is determined that she be given a fair trial and works doggedly to help her case.
Emma is portrayed innocently, in my opinion. As a reader, I never really considered her as the murderer. I don’t know if that was Horan’s intention or not—I never knew for sure
obviously, as the killer was revealed at the end of the book (I won’t spoil it by saying who the killer was, and whether or not it was Emma), but given the evidence about the real Emma Cunningham, I would have expected her character in the book to have been portrayed a little differently.
I don’t know if I really appreciated the end of the book. It didn’t seem plausible to me and, after reading about the actual Burdell murder case, I wish Horan had stayed more true to the facts. In reality, no murderer was ever caught in regards to the murder of Dr Burdell. I understand why Horan would have wanted to have an actual murder pinpointed in her book—who wants to read a mystery that remains unsolved. So I can get over the fact that she made someone up. After all, it is a novel, so she can do what she wants! What I didn’t understand is that the case was even juicier than what Horan chose to include in 31 Bond Street . For instance, Emma claimed to pregnant after Burdell died. She was accused of stuffing pillows up her dress and was eventually caught in her scam when someone witnessed a nun delivering a baby to her door after the trial was over. Emma was forced to fess up—apparently she had paid $1,000 to adopt the baby in order to keep up with her hoax. After that, she was forced to drop her claim for Burdell’s estate.
I understand that maybe Horan just wished to streamline the story a little bit, so she left all that out, but geez—that would have made for some good reading! Regardless of what I discovered after I finished the book though, I still enjoyed it immensely. I did find Horan’s writing to be a bit juvenile at times, but it didn’t take away from the story and the way she constructed it. I devoured this book as fast as I could and I would definitely recommend it to others.
I borrowed this book from my local library.