Murder as a Fine Art

David Morrell is the author of 26 novels, most famously his debut, First Blood (1972), on which the four Rambo movies are based. He’s known as a writer of classy, smart thrillers, and this historical tale fits that bill brilliantly. Set in gaslit, foggy London in 1854, it focuses on the writer Thomas De Quincey, the author of the infamous memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, who is the major suspect in a series of mass murders seemingly inspired by his magazine essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” De Quincey, a small man now 69 years old and crippled by opium addiction, understands that the real murderer is a self-styled artist of death. He can clear his name, the writer realizes, only by finding the killer—a task complicated by political pressure from on high and a citizenry frightened into hysterical rioting by the slaughters. His only allies are his unusually forceful and independent daughter, Emily, and two Scotland Yard detectives who realize his innocence. In its seamless merging of historical fact and imaginative fiction, and its atmospheric description of what at the time was the world’s largest city, this novel is a feast for readers.