Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Murder as a Fine Art (Thomas and Emily De Quincey) Hardcover – May 7, 2013
See the Best Books of 2017 So Far
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for the best books of the year so far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
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!
*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
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
I read Thomas De Quincey's CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER a few years ago when I was researching addiction memoirs. I used to be an historian and now write and teach creative writing. What captured me with Morrell's book was his deft handling of character, atmosphere, historical research, and the plot components of a ripping good mystery yarn. During the academic year I am often reading three books at once: a couple for classes I'm teaching that week, and always something just for me. I'm afraid Morrell secreted me away to my own version of an opium den. I was lost inside his book and didn't emerge until I'd finished. My only regret was that I devoured it too fast. I read it in a weekend and was left wanting to read another one.
I'm at a loss to explain why some folks seem to have struggled with the book. Perhaps being immersed in Victorian London is not for the weak of stomach. The city's streets were thick with horse offal, rotting corpses of horses, dogs, and the poor unfortunate souls who had no place else to go. If you think that England in the 1800s was all Austen manor house and garden tea parties, you will be disappointed. There's not much of this there, I'm afraid. But if you like getting down in the muck and slopping your way through it to find the answer to the questions that come to you with every new detail Morrell introduces; that is, if you want a smart, literate mystery that assumes that you are intelligent enough to follow a complex plot even while you're being distracted by the smells off the wharf, or blinded by the sulfurous London fog, this just might be what you're looking for.
Murder as a Fine Art takes place in 1854 London, England and begins with the brutal, savage deaths of five individuals inside a clothing shop. It isn't long before the public becomes aware that the slayings are a direct imitation of similar murders that took place during 1811, or are they? You see the tragedy of 1811 was written about by the infamous Thomas de Quincey in his essay, Murder Considered as a Fine Art. It's certainly possible that de Quincey's writings may have inspired a new killer to copycat the earlier crimes. Or, maybe de Quincey is the actual serial killer, who has come back to London to relieve his first creation forty-three years earlier.
Other than de Quincey and his daughter, Emily, the next important characters are Detective Ryan and Constable Becker who investigate the killings. The two policemen question the possible suspects, only to realize that someone could be using the writings of de Quincey to throw off suspicion.
Realizing a good thing when it's thrown into his lap, Detective Ryan decides to use de Quincey as a consultant to help him and Becker find the murderer before more killings can take place. Of course, they have to go against the explicit command of the most powerful man in England, who wants de Quincey arrested. The two police officers, however, have minds of their own and suspect they're on a time clock because the real murderer wants to destroy London as his final piece of art.
David Morrell's newest novel is definitely one of sheer brilliance. It incorporates his two years of diligent research to bring 1854 London alive in the reader's mind. His facts about the citizens and the city are never boring. In many ways, I would call it a history lesson that excited me with its nuggets of information that added realism to the story and its many characters.
The writing, of course, is professional in every sense of the word, flowing with an ease that reminded me of a spring meadow running quietly through the forest. After more than thirty-five years of writing, Mr. Morrell knows how to use words to tell a great story and to build a multitude of characters that shine with authenticity.
There was one chapter in particular that held me spellbound within its mesmerizing grip. It told the story of the killer and his journey to India where he learned to smuggle opium into Chine for the British East India Company and how to fight the Hindu Thugs, whose method of killing was strangulation with a knotted rope. The Thugs worshipped Kali, the Goddess of Destruction, and were so skilled in inflicting death upon the British and their allies that a person seldom heard them approach until the rope was wrapped around their neck. This chapter was utterly fascinating to me.
It should also be pointed out that many of the characters in the novel are based on actual people who lived: Thomas de Quincey and his daughter, Emily, John Williams, Lord Palmerston, and others. This certainly adds to the story's provocative theme and its vivid description of murder at its worse.
If you're interested is fantastic reading for the end of the summer, then buy yourself a copy of Murder as a Fine Art. It should also be noted that David Morrell is busy at work on a sequel to this great book.
This is a page turner set in a gorgeously gothic historical locale. Morrell ends the story with the hint of a sequel. I can only hope that wasn't just a tease. After all, Mr. Morrell has already done the hard part. The research is done; all that is left is the easy part--coming up with a devilishly enjoyable story.