Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell
In this historical thriller, author David Morrell recreates the atmosphere of cold, dreary and crowded 1850’s London. The story, based upon Confessions of an English Opium Eater, begins with a serial killer who is copying the 1811 Ratcliffe Highway murders. Thomas “The Opium Eater” De Quincey was truly enthralled with the Ratcliffe Highway killings pouring over every detail and keeping record of them. He was so enthralled by the earlier murders that they became the subject of a controversial essay entitled “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts”.
A man calling himself “the artist of death” recreates the first killings in present 1854, by using a mallet and a knife to off a shopkeeper and his family. This leads to the belief the Ratcliffe Highway murderer had returned, they had a copycat on their hands, or The Opium Eater had finally branched out from his writing.
The similarities send the police after The Opium Eater, but aided by his daughter, Emily, and two police officers, Det. Ryan and Constable Becker, Thomas must prove he is not the artist of death and help catch the actual killer. Throughout the story there is a political backdrop of a House Secretary that is promoting a revolution to keep Britain’s dominance as a political powerhouse of Europe. As the foursome work together to find who the real culprit is they find that opium is the biggest villain of all.
It seemed implausible the police would suspect an elderly man, who is extremely addicted to opium based laudanum and lacking the physique, capable of murdering a whole family, let alone be their prime suspect. But beyond that, I found this book to read somewhat like a text book, so the writing style was too dry for me. The characters are written so cold and distant, even the protagonists were unlikable. I also found adding the political backdrop a bore and unnecessary. I will give credit where it’s due, Morrell used great descriptors for the setting. Unfortunately this was not the read I had hoped it would be; however fans of detailed historical crime fiction may feel differently about Morrell’s latest work.
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