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Murder as a Fine Art [Kindle Edition]

David Morrell
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (349 customer reviews)

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Book Description

ALA Reading List Award for Best Mystery


Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, is the major suspect in a series of ferocious mass murders identical to ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier.

The blueprint for the killings seems to be De Quincey's essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." Desperate to clear his name but crippled by opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his devoted daughter Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives.

In Murder as a Fine Art, David Morrell plucks De Quincey, Victorian London, and the Ratcliffe Highway murders from history. Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer, whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten.

Editorial Reviews Review

Illustrations for Murder as a Fine Art


A Review by Katherine Neville

NY Times and #1 international bestseller Katherine Neville has been referred to as "the female" Umberto Eco, Alexandre Dumas, and Stephen Spielberg. Her adventure-packed Quest novels have been called a "feminist answer to Raiders of the Lost Ark," (Washington Post) and were credited with having "paved the way for books like The Da Vinci Code" (Publishers Weekly).

At first glance, Murder as a Fine Art--a jewel-like, meticulously-crafted historic detective story, set in the high-Raj period of Victorian England--might seem a complete departure for the king of the Thriller genre and "father of Rambo." It takes a tremendous commitment, not to mention a bit of a risk, for a writer like David Morrell, at the pinnacle of a long and successful career, to decide to create a work in a very different genre.

Morrell's secret weapon, which for decades has placed him at the very forefront of suspense writers, has always been his use of impeccable hands-on research: he has honed the art of seamlessly interweaving rich troves of fascinating detail into his plot lines and character sketches, so that we readers never feel--as so often happens with background research found in fiction--that we are being subjected to a tutorial.

Part of the reason Morrell's research has always paid off so well in his previous works has been his relentless quest to learn and master many of the skills he was writing about: flying the airplanes, loading the weapons, earning the black belts. He has rehearsed his characters' skills much as an actor rehearses a character role. But in Murder as a Fine Art, how would he accomplish this, when the story is set in the 1850s, and his main protagonists are a young woman who is self-liberated from Victorian constraints, including her corset!--and her father, a notorious opium addict! He accomplishes it, and brilliantly, by steeping himself so thoroughly in the context of nineteenth century London that, in his own words, he became "a Method actor," guiding us through the London fog (I never knew it was filled with charcoal!)--while acting out in his mind the roles of these real historic figures.

The "Opium Eater" himself, our lead character, was author Thomas de Quincey, a friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge who wrote thousands of pages that today largely have been forgotten. But his most infamous book of the day, and one that has long outlived him, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, was so scandalous that it topped the charts of that era and was preached against (perhaps with good cause) in the churches. De Quincy helped spawn the school of "sensationalist" literature, with his memoirs and essays influencing fiction writers from Wilkie Collins to Edgar Allan Poe to Arthur Conan Doyle.

Morrell has chosen to open his novel in 1854 because that date marks the publication of the final installment of de Quincey's equally shocking three-part essay: "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts," a lurid and gory description with pre-Freudian overtones, of East End murders that took place more than forty years before our story begins. The novel opens with de Quincey arriving in London for his essay's publication, accompanied by his daughter Emily, to learn that he himself is suddenly the prime suspect in a murder that precisely replicates those decades-old killings he'd so lavishly described in his book.

This wonderful set-up provides the real historic character, Thomas de Quincey, with the fictional opportunity to match his laudanum-enhanced wits against the villain's, while simultaneously utilizing his vast learning about the first crimes, and his personal understanding of the subconscious and sublimation, in aiding the police to solve the actual crimes. It doesn't hurt that Morrell's own vast learning enlightens us along the way, with asides on little known Victoriana, covering everything from the gutters, sewers and cesspools of the seamy side of London, to the highest echelons (equally seamy) of British political and bureaucratic corruption.

In fleshing out this era for us, Morrell has deployed one of the favorite Victorian novelistic vehicles: an omniscient narrator who can fill us in on "back story" contexts and details--everything from the vast panorama of the the Opium Wars between Britain and China, to fascinating minutiae like the 37-pound costumes that women wore daily, made of yards of fabric over whalebone hoops and corsetry. There is something about using this particular literary technique, in a book like this, that rings truer than a straight narrative because it is a storytelling style so accepted that it appears in nearly every novel of the period. Perhaps for Morrell's use of this particular method of reportage, Murder as a Fine Art has been compared with recent books that are set in the past, like The Dante Club and The Alienist; I would add that it also brings to mind another tour de force: the stunning literary footwork of an author who lured us into another alien era with equal mastery and success: John Fowles in The French Lieutenant's Woman.

But my personal favorite in Murder as a Fine Art is the character of Emily de Quincey. Who could not cherish a girl who can shed her whalebone cinches and don a pair of bloomers so she can dash down streets and leap gutters alongside the London constabulary? A girl with the wits to mess up her hair, rip open her bodice, and stagger into an angry mob that's threatening her police escort, and to divert the rabble to her imaginary "attacker" at the opposite end of the alley? Emily repeatedly saves the day by paying attention to the people around her, their needs and desires; by grasping how the context of their lives alters the roles they are able to play in it; by using her wits and her common sense as a complement to her father's brilliant, if drug-induced, vision.

The vicious psychotic killer may have been thwarted this time around, but I suspect that Emily de Quincey's services will still be needed to keep London streets safe from other threats creeping out of the dank London fog, in future: I vote for a sequel, Mr Morrell!

From Booklist

*Starred Review* At the start of this exceptional historical mystery, an artist of death prepares himself for his greatest creation—the gruesome slaughter of a young shop owner and his family. In 1854, East Londoners hadn’t seen such horrific murders since 1851, when John Williams also killed a shopkeeper and his family in a nearby neighborhood. The new crime finds Detective Inspector Shawn Ryan at the grisly, chaotic crime scene, where evidence is trampled as the killer blithely escapes. Visiting London at the time, for reasons he can’t fully understand, is Thomas De Quincey, scandalous “opium eater” and author of the 1827 satirical essay, “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” and two newer essays in which he lauds various horrific details of the Williams killings as sublime art. DI Ryan initially treats the drug-riddled, elderly writer as a suspect but eventually accepts his help, if grudgingly. Military-thriller writer Morrell switches genres here in a riveting novel packed with edifying historical minutiae seamlessly inserted into a story narrated in part by De Quincey’s daughter and partly in revealing, dialogue-rich prose. The page-flipping action, taut atmosphere, and multifaceted characters will remind readers of D. E. Meredith’s Hatton and Roumonde mysteries and Kenneth Cameron’s The Frightened Man (2009). Sure to be a hit with the gaslight crowd. --Jen Baker

Product Details

  • File Size: 993 KB
  • Print Length: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (May 7, 2013)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,428 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fact and Fiction Mix for a Great Thriller! May 7, 2013
Crime fiction. Historical fiction. Thriller. Police procedural. All can describe Murder As A Fine Art by David Morrell, author of at least twenty-nine novels and six non-fiction books, including First Blood and Rambo. Despite his success as an author, Murder As A Fine Art is my first experience with Morrell.
The book, set in 1854 London, was inspired by the works of author Thomas De Quincy, who is most well known for a series of essays Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, which was later published as a book. The essays are autobiographical, and tell the story of a life lived mostly while addicted to opiates. At the time, in Victorian England, a book so open about addiction and life's hardships was very rare. However, it was the essay entitled On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts, in which De Quincy satirically detailed a series of murders in 1811, that inspired Mr. Morrell's novel.
Mixing the De Quincy's account in On Murder with De Quincy's experiences described in Confessions, Mr. Morrell wove an intricate web of fact and fiction to produce Murder As A Fine Art. In it, there is a murder of a shop-keeper and his family that appear to be copies of the 1811 murders. Coincidentally, the murders occur as De Quincy, who normally lives in Edinburgh, is in London promoting his work. London Detective Inspector Ryan suspects De Quincy after learning that the crime scenes are so similar to the book written by him, particularly because of the passion, knowledge, and lightheartedness in which On Murder is written. However, Det. Inspector Ryan quickly comes to believe differently and works hard with De Quincy, his daughter Emily, and ambitious London Constable Becker to find and stop the real killer.
Murder as a Fine Art is packed with action starting in the first chapter.
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murder As A Fine Art May 17, 2013
A few weeks ago a friend came over for dinner and seeing me sprawled out on our couch, book in hand, astutely asked what I was reading. A slow smile crept across my lips as I considered my response. I had to be careful. I was hanging on every word of the deliciously dark historic thriller, in love with every lurid detail, but how best to explain my enthusiasm for a book on sadistic serial killer left me in a bit of fix. The book in question was David Morrell's Murder as a Fine Art.

Now, having finished the piece and struggling to do it justice in a review, I find myself in much in the same position. Should I gush over the historic details that placed me square on the gas lit cobbles of nineteenth century England? Should I exclaim over his wonderfully dynamic if flawed and morally ambiguous cast? Or should I just bow to Morrell's genius as the author of such a titillating, white-knuckle opus? Quite a quandary, is it not?

Admittedly, I loved the story, but I can't get over the feel of this piece. I have no knowledge of the research that went into its creation, but I'm convinced Morrell exerted considerable effort in this regard. Cover to cover I merely had to close my eyes and I was there, right there on the dingy streets of Victorian London, trailing the sweet smelling coat tails of Thomas De Quincey. I'll grant I have a rather vivid imagination, but even so, I found the period descriptions in this piece a particular treat.

A palatably rich meditation of evil, plush with historic detail, dark and dangerous as the Victorian slums, Murder as a Fine Art is a brilliantly crafted, fast-paced, must read murder mystery.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Murder as a Fine Art May 7, 2013
From the author who has given the world an iconic hero we all know as Rambo based off the action novel First Blood, we have his latest Murder As a Fine Art. David Morrell is an accomplished writer who has a strong following that I am happy to be a member of. I haven't read any historical fiction thriller by Morrell before by I think he's done a great job at a genre I hold near and dear to my heart.

Murder As a Fine Art is the fictional story of Thomas De Quincey who is famous for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Because of his famous essays involving the Ratcliffe Highway Murders forty years prior, he is a suspect in the newest murders that are done in the same fashion. The essays he wrote with great insight makes De Quincey a prime suspect in London era when detective work and policing were not as we know it today. In an attempt to clear his name De Quincey enlists the help of his daughter Emily, and a pair of intelligent detectives from Scotland Yard.

The tension and suspense never seems to dwindle in this book. Morrell has taken an interesting piece of history along with a famous man in history and has brought them to life in a way that makes you question what's real and what isn't. The characters are well drawn with depth that I believe readers will enjoy. The struggle between De Quincey and his opium addiction have readers sympathetic towards him and eager for his vindication while others will feel strongly about Emily's resilience and enabling. All the main characters in this novel are deeply human and personify Victorian London during 1854.

Historical fiction lovers will appreciate that Morrell provides a lot of information about Victorian London, the people, and the attitudes of the times.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Loved this book. Great detail. A very good mystery!
Published 1 hour ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I like the characters and the flow of the story is fantastic. Good read.
Published 10 days ago by Percival E. Perry
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Read with Historical Flourish
The history stuff is fun and the plot moves along nicely. It's not a great novel but it is, as they say, a "good read."
Published 13 days ago by entertainscape
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm so glad I decided to give this book a chance.
I read about David Morrell on the web and decided to borrow two of his books from the library at the same time. Read more
Published 15 days ago by K. A. Pa
4.0 out of 5 stars Mystery or Novel?
In early April of 2015, I heard David Morrell give a talk in Denver. He said he spent three years researching London of 1854—and reading nothing but books about that time and... Read more
Published 21 days ago by Mark Stevens
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read. Like his writing style
Good read. Like his writing style.
Published 23 days ago by Edna L. Hager
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't think the author had good "control" of the language of the era...
Disappointing...the tone changes between chapters, but not necessarily because the character telling the story changes. Read more
Published 29 days ago by H. Meyer
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good read
Published 1 month ago by Alf Maytham
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous story....
The characters are well drawn and complete and the storytelling methods used are clever and add to the richness of the book.
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical novel entertaining, education.
Very nicely written, holds you interest, historical novel.
Published 1 month ago by Dog lover
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More About the Author

David Morrell is the author of FIRST BLOOD, the award-winning novel in which Rambo was created. He holds a Ph. D. in American literature from Penn State and was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include the classic spy trilogy that begins with THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE, the basis for the only television mini-series to premier after a Super Bowl. The other books in the trilogy are THE FRATERNITY OF THE STONE and THE LEAGUE OF NIGHT AND FOG. An Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity nominee, Morrell is the recipient of three Bram Stoker awards and the prestigious Thriller Master award from the International Thriller Writers organization. His writing book, THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST, discusses what he has learned in his four decades as an author. His latest novel is the highly praised Victorian mystery/thriller, MURDER AS A FINE ART.

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