Sunday, April 12, 2015

Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins

Duel with the Devil
The story of how Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr teamed up to take on America's first sensational murder mystery
2013
****
4 stars - a little history lesson that goes down smoothly
ALR Blue - no animal characters



It's the turn of the century, to 1800, and America is a young country just finding its way. New York City is a mess. Lack of clean water causes annual plagues of the deadly yellow fever, police are mostly thugs, and politicians and businessmen are duping the public. 

The court system, such as it is, has little notion of fair trial for murder and other extreme crimes. With no such thing as police detectives or procedure, most crimes are tried based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence alone. The death penalty is the punishment of choice. Prison is equally deadly.

Enter one corpse discovered in the early days of 1800 down a well which was dug and abandoned by the bloated, corrupt corporation in charge of bringing clean water into the city. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr are rising legal stars. They decide to take on the trial of the accused murderer as his defense team and set to making history.

Well, things haven't changed much. The Internet, my friends, is not responsible for crazed mobs acting on their version of the truth prior to, during, and after high profile trials. The notion that the hapless carpenter who stands accused might, perchance, actually be innocent, is not one that the masses consider. And so we have an entire city riveted on what is transpiring in the courtroom.

It's fascinating stuff and very well written (well, what else would you expect from NPR's Literary Detective). In addition to the trial itself, the reader is offered a rather unsavory look into the machinations of a young America. Let's just say I've got no desire to teleport back to early nineteenth century NYC. Yuck.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like one I really need to find! Alexander Hamilton really was a genius, but I think his ill temper did him in. We rarely think about what life was really like, especially in the cities, around 1800, and this sounds like a great glimpse at one aspect of life.

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