I enjoyed this history of an early American murder trial (1800), and, apparently, the first--or one of the first--trials where the stenographic record was reproduced in full. Collins tells the story well and does a nice job bringing out some of the personalities. I also appreciated the history lesson regarding Burr's business interest in the Manhattan Water Co., his machinations to create the Manhattan Bank (today, Chase-Manhattan Bank), and his own personal life at the time. Similarly, there was some interesting discussion about Alexander Hamilton's and his professional and political life during this period.
But the subtitle--The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery--is a bit misleading, in that very little of the book is about that. Sure, Collins gives plausible reasons for both prominent lawyers to take on a carpenter's murder case (Burr had business ties to the defendant's brother, and Hamilton owed the brother a lot of money), but there's little light shed on how these political rivals actually worked together.
Collins' structure, which worked pretty well, focused first on the NYC political and economic scene at the turn of the century, then the people and events that set up the mystery, then the prosecution's investigation of the case, and, finally, the trial itself. Collins notes that, during at least one of the three months between discovery of the body and the trial, Burr and Hamilton were in Albany, serving in the state legislature, while the prosecution developed its case. There is no discussion of how they developed their defense. Instead, Collins saves their research for trial. This adds to the suspense, but tells us nothing of how they worked together. The description of the trial, too, is lacking. Collins doesn't explain how trials were conducted, but, based on his description, it appears that there were at least some critical differences from today's practice (for example, it appears that opposing counsel could interrupt the other lawyer's direct examination of a witness in order to ask questions as if on cross). How did Burr and Hamilton (along with their third co-counsel, Livingston) divide up the work?
I'm glad I read it, but Collins' true interest is in the murder mystery, and his conclusion as to what really happened over 200 years ago. I feel that featuring Burr and Hamilton in the subtitle was more about getting more customers to purchase it than an accurate representation of the focus of the book.
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