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Duel with the Devil

NPR 'literary detective' Paul Collins chronicles a gripping real-life murder mystery, set in New York City circa 1800 – the first truly tabloid crime in our nation's history.


Duel with the Devil,
by Paul Collins,
Crown Publishing,
304 pages

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Forget about that fictitious dog that didn’t bark. In Duel with the Devil Paul Collins serves up a historical “who done it” that will try your powers of deduction.

Who killed the fetching young Quaker woman is anything but elementary, my dear readers. This engrossing tale boasts the one-horse sleigh which doesn’t jingle, things that go bump in the night, and tantalizingly thin boardinghouse walls. And there is no shortage of suspects.

What more can one ask of a murder mystery, set in New York City circa 1800, the first truly tabloid crime in our nation's history? Well, for good measure, stir in two founding fathers, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (who detested one another), and a future Supreme Court Judge (Henry Brockholst Livingston), who formed the legal Dream Team defending the alleged killer.

The defendant needed all three: The whole city thinks he done it. But this is more than simply a good detective story. The book is as much about the time and the place and the people as it is about a devilishly twisted plot.

When Elma Sands, disappears on a late December night in 1799, suspicion quickly falls on Levi Weeks, a fellow boardinghouse resident whose lacerated knee recently had been tenderly tended to by the now missing miss. When she is found dead at the bottom of a well, suspicion turns to certainty.


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