LOST LOVE: A True Story of Passion, Murder, and Justice in Old New York by George Cooper (Pantheon Books: $23; 272 pp.). George Cooper, a former law professor at Columbia University, had a choice to make in telling the story of the fatal, post-Civil War love triangle formed by renowned journalist Albert Deane Richardson, actress/writer Abby Sage and Sage's ne'er-do-well husband, Daniel McFarland. He could take the traditional approach--re-create the tale, which culminates in McFarland's 1869 murder trial, from library and archival research--or he could take excerpts from contemporary documents and weave them together with bridging background and commentary. Cooper adopted the latter route, and it works remarkably well, light-years better than the document-based textbooks that "Lost Love" superficially resembles: only a lawyer, perhaps, would recognize that direct testimony by the various figures involved--in letters, court statements, newspaper accounts--tells the story better than any interpretive historian. The public favored McFarland, aggrieved husband, at the time of the trial, but Cooper makes clear that Richardson and Sage were grossly maligned by McFarland, his attorneys and the scandal-seeking press: in their own writings they come through as brave, patient, articulate, even altruistic. The Richardson-Sage-McFarland affair is not particularly unusual as love triangles go, but Cooper's fresh, self-effacing approach elevates it to a much more interesting level.

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