Thursday, January 8, 2015

Murder As A Fine Art, by David Morrell


 David Morrell is nothing, if not versatile. Perhaps best known as the creator of Rambo, his writing career has defied all genres and classifications, running the gamut from action/adventure to horror to thriller. His latest, MURDER AS A FINE ART, finds him tackling a historical thriller, and doing so masterfully.

ON MURDER CONSIDERED AS ONE OF THE FINE ARTS was an essay written by Thomas De Quincey, who is most famous for his autobiographical CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER. De Quincey takes center stage in MURDER AS A FINE ART, as he finds himself drawn into a sadistic game of cat-and-mouse with a killer who is obsessed with the Ratcliffe Highway Murders, which De Quincey wrote about in his MURDER essay.

 The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, which occurred in 1811, were far more gruesome than the better-known Ripper Murders that came later in the century, and practically crippled London with fear. In 1854, a copycat murder takes place, almost identical to the first of the two murders that happened in 1811. A shop-owner is killed, along with his wife, servant, and children. The killer narrowly escapes the police, leaving behind the shattered bodies of his victims, and creating panic among the citizenry of London. Thomas De Quincey and his daughter Emily, who have been lured back to London by the killer, are soon drawn into the police manhunt in a desperate attempt to stop the murderer before he can replicate the second set of the 1811 murders, which are even more savage than the first.

 Morrell sweeps the reader along with twists and turns, but he also delivers some truly deft characterizations, particularly the opium addicted De Quincey and his outspoken daughter. The truly remarkable thing about MURDER AS A FINE ART is how meticulously researched it is. I've read a lot of fiction that takes place in Victorian England, but none of them have ever felt as real as this. Morrell details in his afterword how he basically ate, breathed, and slept 1800's London for the two years it took to write this novel. The detail shows, and I fear that he's ruined me for any further Victoriana that doesn't have his name on it. It's not often that you read a work of fiction and feel that you've learned something, but Morrell took me to school, and I loved it. In the first few chapters alone, I learned about the scandalous "Bloomers", why London police are called "Bobbies", and why prison guards are (To this day!) sometimes referred to as "Screws".

 I can't recommend this book enough. Fans of historical thrillers, murder mysteries, and horror will devour it. (The sequel, INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, will be released in March...Stay tuned for a review.)