Sunday, February 22, 2015

Inspector of the Dead, by David Morrell

 Legendary thriller writer David Morrell, creator of Rambo, returns to Victorian England with INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, a sequel to his 2013 novel MURDER AS A FINE ART.

 MURDER AS A FINE ART told a fictional tale about a real man, Thomas De Quincey, a writer who scandalized London society with his memoir, CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER, which detailed his struggle with drug addiction. De Quincey was, by all accounts, a fascinating figure, and Morrell took superb advantage of De Quincey's intellect and intuition by throwing him into the middle of a series of gruesome killings, recreations of the infamous Ratcliffe Highway murders, which De Quincey had written about in real life, in an three-part essay entitled ON MURDER CONSIDERED AS ONE OF THE FINE ARTS. Accompanied by his devoted daughter, Emily, and aided by Scotland Yard's Inspector Sean Ryan and Constable Joseph Becker, De Quincey eventually exposed the murderer, and restored calm to a panic-stricken London.

 INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD picks up a few weeks after we last saw De Quincey and company. He and Emily are about to be cast of of the home of Lord Palmerston, who has been putting the virtually homeless pair up since they arrived in London. Ryan is recovering from his wounds, and Becker has been promoted to Detective Sergeant. Morrell starts the book off with a mind-bending variation on the classic locked-room murder: After a fascinating exploration of how London's elite attended church, an elderly woman is murdered, her throat slit so brutally that she is almost decapitated, right in the middle of a packed mass at St. James's Church, a note found on her corpse bearing the name Edward Oxford printed on black stationary customarily used by mourning family members.

 Edward Oxford was the man behind an unsuccessful attempt on Queen Victoria's life several years earlier, and as the body count rises, other notes are found bearing the names of different would-be royal assassins. As more and more members of government and law-enforcement are murdered, the clues all seem to point towards one final, ultimate victim: Queen Victoria herself.

 Despite his reputation as a master of the modern thriller, Morrell has never seemed more at home than he does here, on the foggy, gaslit streets on 1850's London. As detailed in his afterword, the amount of research he put into these two books is staggering, and it shows on every page. In addition to being a great whodunnit, these books also serve a wonderful miniature history lessons. I spent quite a bit of time googling the various locations and situations that Morrell uses in the book. I've read a lot of books set in the Victorian Era, but none of them seemed even remotely as real to me as Morrell's work.

 As in the previous novel, De Quincey shines every time he appears, and his relationship with his devoted daughter Emily is absolutely delightful. Unfortunately, our cast gets less time in the spotlight this time out, as they are joined by several new characters, including Sir Anthony Trask, a returning hero of The Crimean War, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who have quite a strong onscreen presence in this book.

 Morrell has delivered a sequel that is as good as, if not better, than the original. I don't know how long he intends to remain in Thomas De Quincey's world, but I'll be aboard for the duration. A phenomenal book, highly recommended.

 Mulholland Books provided a review copy.