David Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art features Thomas De Quincey as part of an investigative team scrambling to solve a series of mass murders committed in London in 1854. The ghastly crimes echo those known as the Ratcliffe Highway Murders of 1811, which De Quincey detailed in his 1927 essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” The mystery at the heart of this novel is not just why the more recent atrocities have been committed and by whom, but why the murderer has lured De Quincey back to London and why he is trying to implicate the writer in the bloody rampage.
Murder as a Fine Art is a gripping thriller, but it is far more. It spills over with details about Victorian England—everything from the birth of Continental and British private detective agencies, early techniques of police investigation, and the founding of Scotland Yard to the staggering rate of laudanum addiction among late-19th-century British, the establishment of standardized time, the invention of bloomers, pre-Freudian theories of the subconscious, and the role of the British East Indian Company in England’s government and the Opium Wars. (You’ll pick up tidbits like why British constables are called “bobbies” or “peelers” and jailers were called “screws.”) The author’s afterword documents his extensive research, and having read The Maul and the Pear Tree by P. D. James and T. A. Critchley, I can confirm that he’s done his homework at least with regard to the Ratcliffe Highway killings.
So make yourself a pot of tea and, settle into your favorite reading chair, and dig into Murder as a Fine Art for a bloody good read.