cover image Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard

Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard

Paul Collins. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-24516-5

With the rigor of a historian and a novelist’s eye for detail, Collins (Duel with the Devil) constructs a mesmerizing account of the 1849 murder of a socially prominent, Harvard-educated physician. The victim, Dr. George Parkman, who was last seen entering Harvard Medical College on the afternoon of November 23, was a stern and humorless man who despite maintaining an active practice spent most of his days patrolling the streets of Boston’s West End collecting rent from the tenants of his numerous properties. His disappearance galvanized law enforcement and Boston locals, due in part to a hefty reward for his body, which was eventually found dismembered in the lab of John White Webster, a distinguished professor of chemistry who had fallen into a prodigious amount of debt and was subsequently convicted of murder and hanged. Combining elements of a police procedural, a legal drama, and a comedy of manners, Collins adroitly explores the characters immersed in the tragedy and their tangled relationships, with appearances by the era’s celebrities of literature, medicine, and law, including Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Herman Melville, and Henry Longfellow. This is a fine mixture of true crime, historical exposition, and class conflict in mid-19th-century American history.[em] (July) [/em]