Author David Morrell skillfully blends history and mystery in his 2013 novel, Murder as a Fine Art. Morrell uses real-life historical figures and inserts them into likely situations. Plus, he bases events on the history surrounding their lives. In addition, he integrates aspects of Victorian era writing styles. He’s especially taken with the ‘sensation novel,’ which offered its readers plenty of creepy, intense details.
Of course, Murder as a Fine Art has murders to solve and a villain to ferret out. But there are also more societal aspects of the story, especially the use of opium or laudanum. Real-life famous writer Thomas De Quincey and his daughter Emily are unexpectedly involved in intrigue and violence. Their trip to London is meant to be a book tour. Instead, a nasty criminal recreates events De Quincey wrote about years ago. So Detective Ryan and his sidekick Constable Becker at Scotland Yard enlist their help. Cue plenty of fog, gaslit lamps, streetwalkers, homeless beggars, and unique dialogue.
I love this era—from Sherlockian tales to how Victorians really lived, and how medicine became more scientific. This mystery, history novel combines these elements into a seamless experience. Plus, the writing drew me directly into the time period, with period idioms and grimy atmosphere.
I appreciated young Emily De Quincey’s diary entries. She offers a feminine perspective and, for the time, she was somewhat radical. Her father spared her no details. And so, she has to teach the detectives that she won’t faint at the slightest mention of impropriety. Her point of view also made me want to revisit Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners.
If you feel queasy about gore, this is not a book for you. Morrell is graphic in his descriptions, and the murderer is pretty twisted. Still, it’s a time without automatic weapons. This makes the killings frighteningly precise rather than splattered across broader groups. Either way, it’s uncomfortable thinking of murder as an art. But, I recommend if you like a gruesome murder mystery with a Victorian historical bent.
Pair with Unmentionable or The Butchering Art, as I noted above. Also anything related to Sherlock Holmes, including Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye or Rich Ryan’s terrific series. For a more unique approach, try Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer.