Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell - Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell
Morrell Enterprises 2013

Format? paperback

Source? the publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of Murder as a Fine Art in exchange for a review.  However, the review below and the opinions therein are my own and offered without bias.

Cover? the cover is probably what sold me on this book...really.

Title? Perfect...seamless tie-in with the murderer, his motives and one of the main characters

Reminded me of? Charles Dickens, Jack the Ripper stories,
The Gods of Gotham

Why? Normally I don't seek out self-published books, and normally I wouldn't have wanted to read a book by the author of "First Blood."  The synopsis itself was what drew me in, along with the cover.  A Victorian murder mystery is so right up my alley, it's a no-brainer.   

What Now? There are quite a few titles of Morrell's that I'd like to try including The Brotherhood of the Rose, The Spy Who Came for Christmas, and The Successful Novelist
not to mention the many, many suggestions by Morrell in the Afterword, including 
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, 
We Two: Victoria and Albert by Gillian Gill
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic by Steven Johnson
The Maul and the Pear Tree by P.D. James and T.A. Critchley

Golden Lines

By 1854, London had a population of almost three million, making it the largest city on the planet.  Meanwhile, the police force had merely doubled, to seven thousand, with hardly enough personnel to control the city's seven hundred square miles (16).

He claims that this the only way he can avoid indulging in laudanum - by distracting himself with the effort of walking as much as fifteen miles each day (35).

Her worst fear was coming true.  It was happening again. Back then, there had been four murders in a linen shop, whereas this time there had been five.  That there would be another set of murders, Margaret had no doubt, just as she was certain that the next set of murders would take place in a tavern, the same as the last time.  She was certain of something else.  They would come sooner.
And be worse (148).

Beyond Coldbath Fields Prison, the smoke from London's half-million chimneys mingled with the yellow fog spreading from the Thames, obscuring the city.  Ash drifted down.  But even without the concealing presence of the fog, the artist of death would not have attracted suspicion (161).

Brookline gave me the harshest glare I ever received.  "I don't understand why this woman is allowed to be here.  She doesn't serve our purpose, except to show by her scandalous clothing the contempt that she and her father have for the standards of society.  Not only is the bloomer dress immodest by revealing the outline of her legs, but it is also synonymous with a notorious female activist who campaigns for the disruption of society by advocating the right of women to vote" (235).

Madame Tussaud preferred corpses (270).

In his mind, he connects me with his father and himself. To him, we're all killers, DeQuincey realized.
He vomited (296).

"There is no such thing as forgetting," Father emphasized (326).

Short and Sweet Summary

A murderer, "the artist," slaughters 5 innocent people, including two children in the middle of the night.  As Detective Inspector Ryan and Constable Becker investigate, they discover another set of killings 43 years earlier, better known as The Ratcliffe Highway murders, which are astonishingly similar to the murders they need to solve to keep Londoners from panicking.  Even more suspicious, the famous author, laudanam addict, Thomas De Quincey outlined those murders in detail only a killer would know in his book of essays called On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.  With his daughter Emily at his side, De Quincey must convince Ryan and Becker of his innocence as well as try to prevent the next set of murders and find the killer before he finds De Quincey.

What I Liked

A window into the world of opium...laudanum, Mother Bailey's Quieting Syrup, Batley's Sedative Solution, and many other elixir names that could be bought without prescription, right over the counter and were offered as solutions to any host of problems any one in the family might have...from a toothache to a colicky baby.  It's a wonder anyone in Victorian Society could think straight.

The details of Victorian England so smoothly folded right into the story...Queen Victoria's unpopular decision to allow her physician (not surgeon, for heaven's sake) administer her chloroform during childbirth, the street jobs of almost 1/2 the population of London, the roles of newspaper illustrators, constables, their titles, their pay, their standing in society, the ideas of the general public, etc. 

Emily - she was a woman ahead of her time...from the clothes she wore, her ideas, her boldness, her intellect, her willingness to act on those ideas, and her refusals to be left out simply bc she was of the "weaker sex."

Emily and Becker - I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Murder as a Fine Art won't be the last time we read about these two :)

The politics - Lest we all get lost in the idea of the monarchy...kings and queens, tiaras, beautiful gowns, and other Cinderellaish visuals, Morrell also opens the door into some of the behind the scenes agendas of well-known historical figures...Queen Victoria's ideas of birthing enough children to marry them off to all the heads of Europe, the divisions of the rich and the poor, the intent of Parliament to "destabilize Europe," the rebellions that were the consequences of that destabilization, the separation between the English and Irish, the British East India Company's true mode of wealth.

The vivid descriptions of the streets of London...gaslights, fog, docks, the beggars' underground "society," horse-drawn cabs, livestock, patrolmen with their clackers, prostitutes, and sailors.

Margaret Jewell...for surviving...and stepping up to the plate when she was needed, no matter how much she wanted to break down.

Google, Google and more Google:
Thomas De Quincey
the beginnings of the Metropolitan Police force in London and Scotland Yard
Dr. John Snow and the cholera epidemic of 1854
Lord Palmerston (Henry John Temple)
laudanum addictions of other famous writers...including Wordsworth and Coleridge
social status differences between surgeons and physicians in Victorian England
Ratcliffe Highway murders
Coldbath Fields Prison
Jeremy Bentham and Prison reform theories
the British East India Company
bloomers for women and the progression of fashion
Immanuel Kant's theories of reality
Britain's opium war with China
Rachel Lee
Madame Tussaud
the body snatchers, Burke and Hare
Florence Nightingale's accomplishments for nursing in the Crimean War
book after book after book after book in Morrell's Afterword

What I Didn't Like

Sometimes it caught me off guard for the narration to switch over to Emily's Journal entries, but the viewpoint changes grew on me.  I also realized in the end that I might not have gotten to know Emily as well without a glimpse into her ideas about what was going on around her.

Nothing else here...keep moving.

Overall Recommendation

If you are a Dickens fan, a fan of the gothic novel, or simply interested in detective stories (a little on the gruesome side) set in London, you will love this book.
I did.

The Author

Other Stops on the Tour

Monday, May 6
Review at Sir Read-a-Lot
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading

Tuesday, May 7

Thursday, May 9
Review & Giveaway at Book Addict Katie
Guest Post at The Lit Bitch

Friday, May 10
Review at The Lit Bitch

Monday, May 13

Tuesday, May 14
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Wednesday, May 15

Thursday, May 16
Review at Impressions in Ink

Friday, May 17

Monday, May 20
Review at Unabridged Chick

Tuesday, May 21
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, May 22
Interview at A Bookish Libraria

Thursday, May 23

Friday, May 24
Review at JulzReads

Monday, May 27
Review at From the TBR Pile

Tuesday, May 28
Feature & Giveaway at My Reading Room

Wednesday, May 29
Review & Interview at Layered Pages

Friday, May 31
Review & Giveaway at Psychotic State Book Reviews

Monday, June 3
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, June 4
Review & Giveaway at Kinx’s Book Nook

Wednesday, June 5
Review at Peppermint, Ph.D.

Thursday, June 6
Review at The Bookworm

Friday, June 7
Review at nomadreader
Review at Raging Bibliomania


  1. I'm still not sure if I liked this one or not. If I'd realized it had been written by the man who wrote The Brotherhood of the Rose I might have know I'd have trouble with it as that was one of the few books I could not read.

    Confuzzled was the word I used and I'm still confuzzled. I think it needs a second read.

    1. Wow, Patty...what about it did you not like? I think this is the only one he's written in this particular genre...I think. I'm a big fan of Victorian gothic and I'm just enough of a nerd to really get into all the historical detail :p

    2. I just wasn't sure - I liked all of the detail but I guess I just didn't connect with any of the characters? I just didn't get the why of the whole bad guy. Maybe I haven't read enough Dickens? Although I've thoroughly enjoyed - if one can ENJOY - all of the Dickens I've read.

  2. A Victorian murder mystery is really more temptation than I can resist! I originally saw the review of this one in EW and it immediately went on my list. Every review I've seen since has just made me more and more excited about it.

    1. I loved it, Sandy...I actually "missed" the characters when the book was over. That's silly, isn't it? :p

  3. I've read this author previously and enjoyed him. This one sounds very good Patti. Thanks for blogging about it.

    1. Diane, which of his other books do you recommend? I really want to read something else by him but there are so many that I don't really know where to start?

  4. This one has sounded really intriguing to me since I started to see it hopping around. I love books like The Alienist and am desperate to read Gods of Gotham. Something tells me this one just might work for me.