Horan brings to life a sensational 19th-century New York City murder trial in which a woman is accused of viciously killing her husband.
Emma Cunningham, a widow with two daughters, has recently settled at 31 Bond St. as head housekeeper to the mysterious Dr. Harvey Burdell, a dental surgeon with a penchant for making crooked real-estate deals. Her “housekeeping” duties are fairly light and disguise the fact that Burdell occasionally summons her to his bed and that he intends to marry her, or so he says. When one morning a young lad-of-all-work discovers Burdell’s body, with numerous gashes and an almost-severed head, District Attorney Oakey Hall, hoping to grandstand his way to the mayor’s mansion, wastes little time in accusing Emma. Motive is supplied by a recently discovered wedding license testifying to Harvey and Emma’s marriage some two weeks before the murder, so it looks as though his land holdings will go to his wife rather than to his venal siblings. Emma, however, is just as startled as anyone about the existence of this document, which seems an obvious forgery, especially since the minister who performed the ceremony has a hazy memory of the bride and groom. (Perhaps Harvey has done this to give himself legal custody of the dowry of Emma’s 18-year-old daughter Augusta and thus to consummate a large and illegal transaction involving potentially valuable swampland in New Jersey.) To the rescue comes Henry Clinton, an up-and-coming defense lawyer, a kind of 19th-century Atticus Finch. He’s convinced of Emma’s innocence and disgusted with Hall’s smarmy and politically motivated prosecution. Another mystery involves the disappearance of Samuel, Burdell’s black servant, and the appearance of Katuma, a Native American who feels resentful that his tribe’s land has been appropriated by whites.
An engaging mix of fact and fiction, with a juicy trial, sensationalistic reporters and lots of local urban color.