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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell

Mulholland Books, 384 pages, $16  (paperback release date - 6/10/14)

When Thomas (“Confessions of an Opium Eater”) De Quincey is not jonesing for a laudanum dose, he obviously is well-suited for catching killers using his own form of profiling and by rifling the messy closets of the subconscious. So David Morrell posits in Murder as a Fine Art.

In 1811, multiple killings shocked London. They were subsequently dubbed The Ratcliffe Highway Murders. That part is true. The made-up part happens in 1854, when more murders occur, patterned eerily after the murders years ago. Because De Quincey had written about the previous murders in an essay entitled, “Murder as a Fine Art” (another fact), he becomes involved in the current murders. Initially De Quincey is the prime suspect of Inspector Ryan and Constable Becker because of his detailed knowledge of the original murders, replicated in detail by the current killer. De Quincey and his daughter, Emily, eventually become allies of the police.

For most people De Quincey is probably known, if at all, only for having written a book about the effect opium had on him. People erroneously assume that he praises the drug for its ability to grant him clarity of thought. In Murder as a Fine Art, De Quincey, still in the throes of his addiction, takes great pains to explain to all that he meant the book also as a means of deterring others from following in his footsteps. In De Quincey’s time, opium was not illegal and its derivative, laudanum, could freely be found.

Morrell has created the page-turning story of the search for a mass murderer, a madman, a chameleon, in the dirty, teeming streets of London. He has given De Quincey depth and gravitas as a backdoor psychologist who can understand what might be driving the murderer. In a creative way, Morrell’s third-person narration reads alternately like a history presentation and a set of you-are-there scenes.

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