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Reviewed by A.D. Cole
London, 1811, the most vicious set of murders in the country’s memory is perpetrated by a man named John Williams. Forty-three years later, Thomas De Quincy, famous for his memoir, Confessions of An Opium Eater, writes a series of essays. One of these essays is called On Murder As One of the Fine Arts. In this satirical essay, he details the artistry and skill involved in the infamous Ratcliffe Highway murders. The essay is merely dark humor. Just one writer’s way of managing the horror he feels knowing the atrocities his fellow man is capable of. Except now, the essay is more than that.
When a grisly set of copycat murders reawakens the terror of forty-three years ago, Thomas De Quincy is forced out of his laudanum haze and brought into the spotlight. At first, Detective Ryan and Constable Becker seek him out to question him about his essay. But a series of swift, surprising events quickly make apparent that Thomas De Quincy is at the center of this mystery. Not only is the killer modeling his art according to De Quincy’s prose, he is doing it for De Quincy. And he wants De Quincy dead.
With incredible historic detail and the fascinating ability to intertwine literary history and fiction, David Morrel spins a seamless, action-packed thriller with excellent twists and a satisfying ending. The characters are solid and compelling. Plot takes precedence over character development, though, so don’t be surprised if it takes you a while to warm up to Detective Ryan or Thomas De Quincy. As we get Emily De Quincy’s perspective directly from her journal writings, she’s a little easier to connect with right from the beginning.
The evolution of our understanding of the killer is also fascinating. I wasn’t immediately impressed with his “art.” I wasn’t immediately enthralled with the mystery. But as events unfolded, the conspiracy proved bigger and more intricate than I could have imagined. And the killer changed, in my mind, from a flat, cold-blooded murderer, to a complex and intriguing person with dark and disturbing motives.
Thomas De Quincy, his essays, and the Ratcliffe murders are the historical facts upon which this novel is based. The other notable aspect is the author’s emphasis on De Quincy’s belief that people sometimes do things for reasons they don’t understand. Before Freud was even born, Thomas De Quincy was espousing the belief that subconscious reactions to childhood experiences inevitably guide who a person becomes and how he behaves. This point is emphasized repeatedly throughout the novel. I’m reminded of Solomon’s dictum, “There is nothing new under the sun.” It’s always interesting to find that the person to whom we’ve attributed a particular advancement in knowledge or ideas, wasn’t in fact the first to discover it.
I could go on about all that I found intriguing or entertaining about this novel, but I think I’ve said enough. There are so many good reasons to read it. Historical fiction lovers or thriller enthusiasts are both target audiences. If you’ve ever read and enjoyed the novels of Matthew Pearl or Caleb Carr, then David Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art is a book for you.
A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Mulholland Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.