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Morrell has done an able job of blending history with fact to create a page-turning study of 1854 London. The work focuses on real-life English author Thomas De Quincey (Confessions of an English Opium-Eater), whose essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" focused on the infamous Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811. In Murder as a Fine Art, a copycat murderer who is both recreating and upstaging the Ratcliffe Highway murders lures De Quincey and his strong-willed, freethinking daughter Emily to London just in time to frame De Quincey for the tragedies. The resulting novel is both a gothic thriller and a thought-provoking and affecting contemplation of memory, addiction, and guilt.
I especially applaud Morrell for his Afterword essay, which explains not only how he researched and incorporated true history into his mystery, but also how he altered his writing style to mimic 19th-century sensationalist literature and incorporate De Quincey's own words. His generous list of works consulted is wonderful and most appreciated.
I give this four rather than five stars because the prose sometimes feels clunky and the pacing irregular. Emily, in particular, not only feels like a one-note, too-good-to-be-true stereotype (a "Mary Sue," if you will), but she also snags the rhythm at times by launching into righteously indignant monologues on women's fashion or prison reform at improbable times in the midst of action. Tidbits of description also appear extraneous on occasion. I mostly blame Lyndsay Faye for my reaction to this, as reading her recent novels has spoiled me and led me to expect other authors of historical fiction to fold their extensive research seamlessly into narratives without pausing for jarring "infodumps."
None of these criticisms detract, however, from the fact I quite enjoyed and definitely recommend this novel. With Matthew Wolf's excellent narration, it's well worth a listen.
34 of 35 people found this review helpful
I had reached a point with David Morrell's books where I couldn't remember if I'd read his books just by looking at the title and sometimes the summary. So I was pleasantly surprised when I came across this book which appeared to be a stab at a new genre for him. Having lived most of hs adult life in Iowa and New Mexico, it was intriguing that he would try and write a murder mystery set in London in the mid 1800's. He pulled it off quite well and if he continues with the genre I'll give him another try. The painstaking research this effort must have taken to tie a real life character, some 40 year old murders tied into crimes of the time were very well done. This wasn't a crime thriller like many where it becomes a page turner but I thoroughly enjoyed this story and would recommend giving it a try.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful