City of Liars and Thieves: A Novel
Author: Eve Karlin
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: A crime that rocked a city. A case that stunned a nation. Based on the United States’ first recorded murder trial, Eve Karlin’s spellbinding debut novel re-creates early nineteenth-century New York City, where a love affair ends in a brutal murder and a conspiracy involving Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr erupts in shattering violence.
“It is high time to tell the truth. Time for justice. . . . How she was murdered and why she haunts me. It is not only Elma’s story, it’s mine.”
On the bustling docks of the Hudson River, Catherine Ring waits with her husband and children for the ship carrying her cousin, Elma Sands. Their Greenwich Street boardinghouse becomes a haven for Elma, who has at last escaped the stifling confines of her small hometown and the shameful circumstances of her birth. But in the summer of 1799, Manhattan remains a teeming cesspool of stagnant swamps and polluted rivers. The city is desperate for clean water as fires wreak devastation and the death toll from yellow fever surges.
Political tensions are rising, too. It’s an election year, and Alexander Hamilton is hungry for power. So is his rival, Aaron Burr, who has announced the formation of the Manhattan Water Company. But their private struggle becomes very public when the body of Elma Sands is found at the bottom of a city well built by Burr’s company.
Resolved to see justice done, Catherine becomes both witness and avenger. She soon finds, however, that the shocking truth behind this trial has nothing to do with guilt or innocence.
My review: The duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton seems that Catherine Ring’s curse has come true. Catherine Ring’s cousin, Elma Sands, has been found dead in well in the middle of nowhere. The most suspicious person who did this shocking and inhumane crime is her lover, Levi Weeks. His trial is the first recorded murder trial in American history. His defense lawyers were Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, who uses their eloquent speeches to help him get away with murder. Catherine Ring seeks the truth surrounding Elma’s death, but justice and Elma are soon forgotten amidst politics, corruption, money, and power.
Catherine Ring is a strong heroine. She is flawed. She runs a boardinghouse, and at the same time is a wife and mother. She asks for Elma to help her with the chores and take care of the children. She and Elma have a sisterly bond, but because she focuses on her problems, she doesn’t pay much attention to Elma and her well-being until it is too late. Yet, Catherine is observant and persistent. She doesn’t stop hunting for the truth until she has it. She also regrets not paying much attention of Elma for if she did, she thinks Elma may have still been alive.
I like how the author set up Elma’s character before her death. Elma is illegitimate and that is a stigma that sticks with her even after her grave. Because of this she has a hard life and it seems impossible for her to have a good future. Yet, she is romantic. For when she first meets the young, handsome, and wealthy Levi Weeks, she thinks that she is going to marry him and become a respected lady in society. She also is very smart and has a good heart, for when she learns about the Weeks secret, she vows to expose it to the public.
I found the book to be very well written. Even though the Levi Weeks trial has been an elusive fact in history, the past eerily reflects the present. For Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton did not care about Elma Sands, rather they used the trial for their own fame and political gain. And they were willing to use ruthless tactics to tarnish Elma’s reputation and let the murderer go scot-free so they can achieve their goal. They did not care about justice or the victim but rather themselves. Even when they were together, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr competed to best the other to who was the most eloquent lawyer and used Elma as a means to demean the other. For example Burr comment on Elma’s illegitimacy because Alexander is illegitimate himself. Because of this, I saw new light on Alexander Hamilton, and I really did not like him. In fact I was happy when Catherine Ring cursed him.
Overall, this story is about a woman’s quest for justice. The message of the book is to appreciate what you have because you never know when it may be snatched away from you. The characters and the setting are well-developed, and the novel is very well-written. The book is slow to develop but after Elma’s death, it is a fast-paced read that will keep you on the edge of your seat until you find out the truth. I recommend this book to historical fiction and mystery lovers alike.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars