Monday, June 3, 2013

My take on: Murder As a Fine Art

Murder As a Fine Art by David Morrell is not for the squeamish. I read the first couple of chapters on the train, and had to restrain myself from crying out. The first few pages are extremely graphic.

A killer is stalking the streets of Victorian London. He beat and stabbed an entire family to death, including two children. A madman has to be behind this. A beggar. Or a drunkard perhaps? No upstanding person could have done this. People are afraid to go outside. Anyone who looks different is a suspect. People are quick to give into mob mentality and attack the first stranger they see. Who could be doing it? Some officials want the public to believe it's opium-obsessed writer Thomas De Quincey. His book Confessions of an Opium Eater contained graphic details of murder. Is he glorifying murder? Reading his book, one might think De Quincey has found some kind of beauty or art behind the act of murder. Did the killer find inspiration in De Quincey's work?

It's up to Inspector Ryan and his assistant Becker to find the killer. It's up to them to determine if De Quincey is a murderer or just a loony old man who is too dependent on laudanum? It's up to his daughter Emily to protect her father. 

It was unnerving to read how quickly the public and police officials could give into hysteria. No evidence is really needed, just point to the closest person and accuse him of murder. Even in 2013, it could still happen. In Victorian London, forensic science is in it's infancy. Inspector Ryan wants to use all the latest techniques. He wants to use evidence and not hysteria to find the killer. To me, the murders were all about hysteria. Mass killings create public outcry, no one trusts their neighbors or police, people arm themselves with weapons, and cities are on the brink of anarchy. Is that part of a master plan? Turn the public against each other so they will ignore the real problems around them. It's a brilliant plan.

David Morrell takes us inside the mind of the killer, Emily, and De Quincey. I liked reading the multiple perspectives. The killer wants people to see his actions as art, but it's hard to feel anything but disgust. He goes to great lengths to pose the bodies like art. Emily's perspective is very blunt, she has to be with De Quincey for a father. He talks about murder with enthusiasm and in great detail, but it's all part of his quirky personality. From Emily's perspective, you learn that De Quincey is an odd, but loving man. He would be lost without Emily. She would be lost without him. Her life is consumed with keeping him alive.

I liked the overall premise of the book. I almost rated this "Superb," but one thing annoyed me. A lot of the chapters open with a history lesson. It read like a textbook. The author explains some of the history of the time period. There's nothing wrong with teaching a little history, but it could have been done in a different way. Why not have a character explain things in a more subtle way? The way the book is now, it's clear the author is narrating and not a character. Those passages just feel awkward and they disrupt the flow of the book. Overall, it's a good murder mystery worth reading.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Hachette Book Group) as part of a blog tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours


  1. Great review, Jael. I haven't read this one yet but now I'm intrigued.