Murder as a Fine Art

by David Morrell
Mulholland Books, May 2013, $25.99

David Morrell’s latest is set in the dank, dirty streets of 1854 London. Apparently inspired by the Ratcliffe Highway mass murders of 1811, and by their detailed fictional recreation in Thomas De Quincey’s notorious essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” a brutal and efficient killer has taken several innocent lives, and terrorized the city. Desperate to seem on top of the case, the police roust the controversial De Quincey, considering him a suspect despite his advanced age, frail condition, and laudanum addiction. Always intrigued by an intellectual puzzle, and finding it to be in his self-interest, the Victorian author, accompanied by his daughter, the estimable Emily, matches wits with the killer, trying to uncover his identity before he can wreak further havoc.

Although aptly compared to books such as Dan Simmons’ Drood and Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club, the book that came to my mind while enjoying the mayhem within was Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, due to Morrell’s happy ability to marry fact and fiction, convincingly evoking both 19th century London and the fascinating personage of the “Opium-Eater” himself, Thomas De Quincey. Besides being treated to a first-rate historical thriller, which the author dubs in his fascinating afterword, “my version of a nineteenth century novel,” readers can learn about, among other things, the origins of London’s police department, the history of the drug laudanum, and the derivation of the word “bloomers.” Morrell accomplishes this feat through the use of the third-person omniscient viewpoint, a welcome nod to the novels of that time, which allows the narrator to step forward to provide necessary background information.

Hank Wagner

morrell_murderasafineartA historical novel inspired by opium dreams and set in the dank, dirty streets of 1854 London.

Teri Duerr

by David Morrell
Mulholland Books, May 2013, $25.99

May 2013
Mulholland Books