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Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell


Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell :

“An absolute master of the thriller.”
(Dean Koontz )

 “Brilliant. Everything works–the horrifying depiction of the murders, the asides explaining the impact of train travel on English society, nail-biting action sequences–making this book an epitome of the intelligent page-turner.”
(Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Murder as a Fine Art is a masterpiece-I don’t use that word lightly-a fantastic historical thriller, beautifully written, intricately plotted, and populated with unforgettable characters. It brilliantly re-creates the London of gaslit streets, fogs, hansom cabs, and Scotland Yard. If you liked The Alienist, you will absolutely love this book. I was spellbound from the first page to last.”
(Douglas Preston, coauthor of the #1 bestseller Cold Vengeance )

“London 1854, noxious yellow fogs, reeking slums, intrigues in high places, murders most foul, but instead of Sherlock Holmes solving crimes via the fine art of deduction, we have the historical English Opium-Eater himself, Thomas De Quincey. David Morrell fans-and they are legion-can look forward to celebrating Murder as a Fine Art as one of their favorite author’s strongest and boldest books in years.”
(Dan Simmons, author of Drood and The Terror )

“Morrell’s use of De Quincey’s life is absolutely amazing. I literally couldn’t put it down: I felt as though I were in Dickens as he described London’s fog and in Wilkie Collins when we entered Emily’s diary. There were beautiful touches all the way through. Murder as a Fine Art is a triumph.”
(Robert Morrison, author of The English Opium Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey)

“The absolute master…the craftsman so many of us look to for guidance.”
(Andrew Vachss )

Basic RGB


1854 London, Lord Palmerston in charge, under the cover of fog with a gas light as aid to see in the streets and the Hansom Cab as means of transport, a macabre scene of death unfolds. David Morrell has created a story in a bygone time, a historical mystery that has truths meet together, facts in fiction. This is Edgar Allen Poe visits Dickens London kind of mystery.

Cholera was not the only insidious nature to visit the people but a wave of murders struck without reason. A past crime, the Ratcliffe Highway killings, seems to be have a connection, could a serial killer be emerging from the fog?

The English Opium-Eater in London, De Quincy. Opium and the alcoholic solution Laudanum, made from Opium, plays an important roll in the lives of the cast of characters including De Quincy who was a real character from history who wrote extensively on this topic and Murder as a fine art in particular. So when you are done reading this you may chase up on De Quincy and read more about this era, more about the Opium trade, the poor of London and the Ratcliffe Highway killings. There was a great sense of place, time and intrigue in this story.

Truth in fiction handled so well with a Gothic mystery feel that has you captivated and kept reading from the first page.

“The color of Laudanum ruby. It is a liquid that consists of 90 percent alcohol and 10 percent opium. Its taste is bitter. A Swiss-German alchemist invented it in the 1500s when he discovered that opium dissolved more effectively in alcohol than in water. His version included crushed pearls and gold leaves. In the 1660s, an English physician refined the formula, removed impurities such as the crushed pearls and the gold leaves, and prescribed it as a medicine for headaches as well as stomach, bowel, and nervous disorders. By the Victorian era, laudanum was so widely used as a pain reducer that virtually every household owned a bottle. Considering that opium’s derivatives include morphine and heroin, laudanum’s reputation as a pain reducer was well founded. Toothache, gout, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, and cancer were only some of the ailments that laudanum manufacturers such as Batley’s Sedative Solution, Mc Munn’s Elixir, and Mother Bailey’s Quieting Syrup claimed to alleviate. Women used laudanum to relieve menstrual cramps. Colicky babies were given it.”


In an interview I had with David Morrell I asked about this novel and we talked about writing, Gatsby and First Blood read full interview @

Lou Pendergrast:

Welcome and congratulations on your new novel out now Murder as a Fine Art. What was the inspiration behind this new novel, when was seed planted for this, how long did it take to complete writing it?


David Morrell:

The idea for Murder as a Fine Art came to me in 2009 when I watched a movie (Creation) about Charles Darwin’s nervous breakdown. His favorite daughter had died. His wife, a devote Christian, felt that he was damning his soul by writing On the Origin of Species.  Grief and guilt made him physically ill, but the medical world of the time wasn’t capable of seeing the connection. Near the end of the film, a character comes to Darwin and says, “Charles, people such as De Quincey are saying that we can be influenced by thoughts and emotions that we don’t know we have.”  That sure sounded like Freud, but the film is set in 1855, and Freud published in the 1890s. I wondered if the reference was to Thomas De Quincey, an author I studied in a long ago literature course about the 1800s. So I started reading De Quincey, and he did indeed anticipate Freud by a half century.  He invented the word “subconscious.” He wrote several essays about the interpretation of dreams, again anticipating Freud. He inspired Edgar Allan Poe who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes. I fell into what I call a Victorian rabbit hole and decided to write a mystery thriller about De Quincey, placing him at the start of the detective tradition.


Lou Pendergrast:

Tell me why do you choose to use the character De Quincey in your story?


David Morrell:

In addition to being an innovator in theories about psychology, De Quincey was also an expert in murder. He was obsessed by a double set of mass murders that occurred in London’s east end in 1811. There were probably mass murders before then, but the lack of widespread communication meant that no one was aware of them. In 1811, though, the mail-coach system meant that London’s 52 newspapers could be carried throughout England in two days. The result was a national, paralyzing terror.  De Quincey invented the true-crime genre in what’s called his Postscript to a sensational essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” For fifty harrowing pages, he portrayed the Ratcliffe Highway killer and his victims, building almost unendurable suspense. That installment of the essay was published in 1854, and my novel Murder as a Fine Art proposes that someone begins using the essay as a blueprint to recreate the original murders. Because of De Quincey’s obsession with the murders and because he was the first person to write about drug addiction in his notorious book, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, the police see him as the logical suspect.  Thus he becomes both the hunted and the hunter as he sets out to find whoever is perverting his work.

Lou Pendergrast:

Is there any truths in this historical fiction story, how much research did it take?


David Morrell:

My goal was to make readers believe that they are in 1854 London, so the research was considerable, lasting two years.  Going to that era is like going to Mars. I kept finding all sorts of strange details that Victorians took for granted but that we find weird.  For example, how much did a middle- or upper-class woman’s clothes weigh?  An astonishing 37 pounds, because they wore metal hoops under their dresses and those hoops needed to be covered by ten yards of ruffled satin.


Lou Pendergrast:

Writing in the language of the olde English tongue how hard was it to write with this and about an environment away from your surroundings, how did you go about doing this?


David Morrell:

The Victorian era didn’t use olde English.  Their method of speaking, as evidenced in Dickens, was very much like ours, except that their constructions were perhaps more formal. It’s true that they used a lot of words that we no longer understand—dollymop, dipper, and dustman, for example, which referred to a prostitute, a pickpocket, and the man who came to houses and collected fireplace ashes for resale to brick factories.  I read as many 1850s novels as I could find, and I amassed several shelves of books about Victorian culture.


Lou Pendergrast:

Will you delve into bygone eras again in future works?


David Morrell:

The reaction to Murder as a Fine Art has been so enthusiastic that my publisher asked me to writer another novel about Thomas De Quincey, so for a while longer, I’m going to be in 1850s London.