Wednesday, June 12, 2013
History, mystery and a host of fascinating characters—Paul Collins latest effort, Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery, entertains as it illuminates the early years of the United States. At its core is Manhattan Well Mystery, the death of a young woman that remains unsolved more than two hundred years after its commission, making it the coldest case in American history.
The time frame of the crime coinciding with the death in 1800 of national hero President George Washington presents a backdrop for Collins to shine light on the foibles and strengths of another pair of founding fathers, Hamilton and Burr, and their tumultuous relationship that ultimately ended in Hamilton’s death in 1804. This slice of history shows the two men working side-by-side to overcome the inadequacies of a newborn justice system struggling to distinguish itself from the judicial order of the Crown.
The accused, carpenter Levi Weeks, had already been convicted in the court of public opinion and was at risk of harm from mob violence, a common remedy of the times. Levi could not testify on his own behalf because the judicial system he entered considered the defendant's word to be inadmissible because it was biased against conviction. His legal team, Hamilton, Burr and Henry Brockholst Livingston, were all that stood between Levi and the hangman.
The story of how this lowly craftsman managed to assemble such a stellar group of attorneys in his fight for justice gives a startling glimpse into the political, economic and judicial realities of post-colonial America. It is a riveting tale that you will not only enjoy reading but will look forward to reading over again. I devoured Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins one delightful chapter after another and recommend it without hesitation