Full Reviews, Inspector of the Dead
Publishers Weekly (starred)
Fans of sophisticated historicals will embrace Macavity Award–winner Morrell’s second suspense novel featuring Thomas De Quincey and his grown daughter, Emily (after 2013’s Murder as a Fine Art). In 1855, just as the British are dealing with the collapse of the government following revelations of mismanagement during the Crimean War, London suffers a reign of terror. After murdering the servants of a Mayfair lord’s household, a killer manages the seemingly impossible crime of slitting the throat of Lady Cosgrove in her private pew in St. James’s Church. A note near her corpse contains only the words Young England, a reference to a group of conspirators assassin Edward Oxford claimed were behind his attempt on Queen Victoria’s life in 1840. The murders continue, in settings apparently selected to show Londoners that they aren’t safe anywhere, and with a savagery that suggests a personal motive for the bloody spree. Impressively, Morrell even manages to introduce some humor into his grim tale, as shown by a scene in which De Quincy shocks Lord Palmerston by admitting he once told George III a lie. Convincing period detail complements the fascinating story line.
God save the queen—or failing that, send in the opium sot.
Morrell’s sequel to his Victorian-era thriller, Murder as a Fine Art (2013), finds Thomas De Quincey, the scandalous opium-addicted author, again embroiled in a lurid series of murders as he employs his unique psychological and philosophical insights in an investigation of the slayings of prominent members of English society. Aided by his progressive-minded daughter, Emily, and two stalwart detectives of Scotland Yard, De Quincey makes for an offbeat but entirely credible protagonist in the Sherlock Holmes mold. Morrell deftly blends actual historical persons and events—De Quincey remains well-known for his proto-addiction memoir, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are major characters—with the morbid thrills of a contemporary serial-killer narrative as the victims are arranged in grotesque tableaux, each bearing a letter naming various failed assassins of Queen Victoria and referencing a secret society known as Young England, a terrorist organization bent on the overthrow of the British government. It’s a potent formula, with genuine thrills and a satisfying mystery leavened with well-observed and meticulously researched details of Victorian life and attitudes. The villain is sympathetically drawn, with clearly defined and understandable motivations, and De Quincey’s team of intrepid investigators is a cracklingly compelling group of misfits and damaged heroes. Morrell also entertainingly plays with formal conventions, recalling the tropes of Victorian “sensation novels,” and the whole enterprise is ripping good fun at every delicious twist and turn.
A propulsive, richly imagined yarn that never loses steam or insults the reader’s intelligence.
Set in 1855, a year after the action in Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art (2013), this second novel to star English author Thomas De Quincey—best known for his autobiographical Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821)—involves a series of murders that could point to a plot against the life of Queen Victoria. Based loosely on historical events, the finely wrought tale provides enough period detail to give us the flavor of mid–nineteenth century Victorian England (but not so much that we feel like we’re reading a history text) and delivers a cast of compellingly crafted characters. De Quincey, in particular, is a brilliant creation, an amateur sleuth, writer, and drug addict who both repels and intrigues us at the same time. Top-notch entertainment.
This sequel to Murder as a Fine Art, set in London in 1855, reunites the team of Thomas De Quincey (Confessions of an Opium Eater), his daughter Emily, and police officers Ryan and Becker. From the shockingly brutal murders at the start to the stunning conclusion, De Quincey and his fellow investigators race against time to discover who is killing prominent Londoners as a prelude to assenting Queen Victoria. Is the plot a conspiracy to overthrow the monarchy or a more personally motivated attack on society? De Quincey applies psychological theories and techniques to the crimes, reflective of his genius and his decidedly different view of reality. VERDICT Morrell’s skillful use of the literary elements of Victorian sensation novels, especially the third-person omniscient narrator who presents tidbits of 19th-century life, enhance the appeal of this thriller to fans of historical fiction and Victorian-era crime novels as well as readers who enjoy Anne Perry or Robin Paige. De Quincey is the most fascinating character in the novel, provoking interest in his real-life exploits.