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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Murder As A Fine Art" by David Morrell~Thriller!



Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, is the major suspect in a series of ferocious mass murders identical to ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier.

The blueprint for the killings seems to be De Quincey's essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." Desperate to clear his name but crippled by opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his devoted daughter Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives.

In Murder as a Fine Art, David Morrell plucks De Quincey, Victorian London, and the Ratcliffe Highway murders from history. Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer, whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten.


“Murder As a Fine Art by David Morrell is a masterpiece—I don’t use that word lightly—a fantastic historical thriller, beautifully written, intricately plotted, and populated with unforgettable characters. It brilliantly recreates the London of gaslit streets, fogs, hansom cabs, and Scotland Yard. If you liked The Alienist, you will absolutely love this book. I was spellbound from the first page to last.”

—Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling author of The Monster of Florence

“London 1854, noxious yellow fogs, reeking slums, intrigues in high places, murders most foul, but instead of Sherlock Holmes solving crimes via the fine art of deduction, we have the historical English Opium-Eater himself, Thomas De Quincey. David Morrell fans -- and they are Legion -- can look forward to celebrating Murder As a Fine Art as one of their favorite author's strongest and boldest books in years.”

—Dan Simmons, New York Times bestselling author of Drood and The Terror

“Morrell’s use of De Quincey’s life is amazing. I literally couldn’t put it down: I felt as though I were in Dickens when he described London’s fog and in Wilkie Collins when we entered Emily’s diary. There were beautiful touches all the way through. Murder As a Fine Art is a triumph.”

—Robert Morrison, author of The English Opium-Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey

“I enjoyed Murder As a Fine Art immensely. I admired the way Morrell deftly took so much material from De Quincey's life and wove it into the plot, and also how well he created a sense of so many dimensions of Victorian London. Quite apart from its being a gripping thriller!”

—Grevel Lindop, author of The Opium-Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey

Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Mulholland Books
Hardcover; 368p
ISBN-10: 0316216798

Purchase this novel:  Amazon


David Morrell is a Canadian novelist from Kitchener, Ontario, who has been living in the United States for a number of years. He is best known for his debut 1972 novel First Blood, which would later become a successful film franchise starring Sylvester Stallone. More recently, he has been writing the Captain America comic books limited-series The Chosen.

For more information on David Morrell and his novels, please visit the official website. You can also follow David on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.


The Bookish Dame is priviledged to bring this interview today with this formitable author.  Thank you, Mr. Morrell for agreeing to stop by...

Here are some simple questions for you:

1)        Tell us something about yourself, please.  How do most people describe you?


I like to joke that I’m a mild-mannered former professor who loves to write suspense.  I have a Ph D in American literature from Penn State. I was a full professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. To some, it’s a contradiction that an author with my background loves to write thrillers and mysteries, but to me, it makes perfect sense. For one thing, the genre offers a wonderful opportunity to reach a wide range of readers. For another, I think that thrillers and mysteries offer a wonderful way in which to experiment.  There are no inferior genres, only inferior writers in those genres. My childhood was difficult. My father was a pilot who died in combat. My mother couldn’t take care of me and earn a living, so she put me in an orphanage. Later she remarried, but my stepfather didn’t like children.  There was a lot of fighting in the house.  In fear, I slept under my bed, where I told stories to myself. They were adventure stories in which I was the hero. It’s no wonder that I grew up to write similar stories.


2)       Where is your favorite place to write?  Any special gimmicks, writing tools or keepsakes that you keep near you when you write…I hear authors can be superstitious!


In my Iowa City home, I literally wrote in a closet, but in my home in Santa Fe, NM, I have a separate officer with two desks.  At one, I write on a computer. At the other, I read the printouts of my work, trying to separate the experiences. Sometimes, to make a page look fresher, I change fonts. I try to write 5 pages a day. These are revised the next morning, and then I continue with the story. By the time a project is finished, I have probably made changes to each pages 20 times. I can write pretty much anywhere—even on planes. But when I’m away from home, my writing tends to be devoted to small items such as introductions or else to reading books for research. 


3)       Who first told you could write well, and how did it affect you?


When I was 17, I made the decision to become a writer because of a television series that I’ll talk about later. I became an English major in college.  Then I realized that I would probably need a day job because writers don’t earn much, so I went to Penn State for my MA and Ph D and became a professor. While I was a student at Penn State, I met a professional writer who’d written science fiction during the golden age of the 1950s. His pen name was William Tenn. His actual name was Philip Klass. I persuaded him to give me private lessons. My early efforts, which were bad imitations of James Joyce, met with his disapproval. But with determination, I persisted, finding my home in suspense fiction, and one day, after a year, he told me that I might have a career. I dedicated my first novel to him.  That book was published when I was 29, twelve years after I decided to become a writer. 


4)       Which contemporary authors do you most admire?


I love the work of my friend Dan Simmons, who has written in just about every genre, including science fiction, and received numerous awards. His energetic style matches his active mind and fascinating stories. Some of his best books are HYPERION, CARRION COMFORT, and THE TERROR (about Shackleford’s disastrous Arctic expedition). His DROOD (about Wilkie Collins, the friend of Dickens and the author of THE WOMAN IN WHITE) is a Victorian thriller that your club members might like to look at after they read MURDER AS A FINE ART. 
"Drood" is a favorite of mine, too.  Dan Simmons is a venerable writer. 


5)       Which are your favorite classical authors?


Because I was an American literature professor, I keep going back to the great authors I taught: Hawthorne and Melville, Hemingway and Faulkner. I am very fond of Henry James, who taught me a lot about narrative viewpoint. And I’m especially fond of Edith Wharton’s inside perspective of old New York in THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. The classical thriller author I most admire is Geoffrey Household, whose ROGUE MALE in 1939 described a British big-game hunter’s effort to stalk Hitler just before the start of WWII. It’s masterful, with nature scenes that feel as if William Wordsworth wrote thrillers.
Personal favorite authors of mine!  I knew from your writing we had something in common...


6)       Jump into any book~which character would you be?


I’m reminded of the first sentence of Dicken’s DAVID COPPERFIELD. “Whether I shall turn out to be the main character of my life story or only a minor character, these pages shall reveal.”  I love that idea—that it’s possible to be a minor character in our lives. I have met people who are indeed, tragically, minor characters in their live stories. But I hope that hasn’t been the case with me. I am by nature a teacher and a pre-reactor (if that’s a word). I look ahead and try to do things that make me a fuller person.  


7)       If you could have 5 historical people to dinner, who would they be?  What would you have to eat?


Because MURDER AS A FINE ART is about the real-life 1800s author Thomas De Quincey, he would be at the top of my list. He was the first person to write about drug addiction in his infamous CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER, at a time when the concept of addiction didn’t exist.  He invented the word “subconscious” and anticipated Freud’s psychoanalytic theories by a half-century. He also invented the true-crime genre in the third installment of his essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” He influenced Edgar Allan Poe who in turned influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes, so he stands at the start of detective fiction. Fascinating. De Quincey’s conversations were said to be so entertaining that people wanted to hold him prisoner and bring him out like a toy when they were bored.  He was an intimate friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge and had many interesting stories to tell about them.  He so admired Wordsworth that he moved close to Wordsworth in the Lake District of England. After the poet moved from Dove Cottage, De Quincey moved in so that he could sleep and eat where Wordsworth had eaten and slept. In MURDER AS A FINE ART, I also write about the most powerful and influential politician of his day, Lord Palmerston, who was war secretary, foreign secretary, home secretary, and prime minister.  His personality was so engaging that he would liven any dinner party. After De Quincey and Lord Palmerston, I would include Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. (Although I’m a Victorianist these days, my college roots are in American culture.)  Finally, having mentioned her already, I’ll mention her again: Edith Wharton.
Oh, how I'd love to be at that dinner party...  Fascinating company.  Would we ever eat a bite?


8)       Favorite two tv shows:


I mentioned that a television series changed my life when I was 17. Premiering in 1960, ROUTE 66 was about 2 young men in a Corvette convertible who travel across the United States in search of America and themselves.  Influenced by Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD, its theme was searching for and pursuing one’s destiny. Every episode was filmed on location across the U.S. A mixture of action and ideas, the scripts by Stirling Silliphant made me want to do what Silliphant did. I wrote him a letter (a kind librarian gave me the address for Screen Gems, the show’s production company). A week later, Silliphant wrote back and encouraged me. Eventually we became friends.  We even worked together when my novel THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE became the only television miniseries to be broadcast after a Super Bowl. Silliphant was the executive producer. He received an Oscar for the screenplay adaptation of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.  For me, no other series can compare. But I’ll mention a few current favorites: MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, and SMASH (the latter because in my youth I considered a theatrical career).
Very surprising choices, David.  Although, I can see MADMEN being attractive to you, absolutely. 

9)       Favorite movie of all time:


This is always a tough one. I’ll choose the first title that pops into my head, which is indeed probably my favorite: Alfred Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, a nearly perfect thriller.


10)   Are you working on a new book?


Everyone who has read MURDER AS A FINE ART has insisted that I write a follow-up, which is what I’m working on now.  The working title is THE INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, and there’s a chance that it will come out next year (2014). In my 41 years as a published author, I wrote few sequels, but Thomas De Quincey is so fascinating that I have plenty more to say about him and the Victorian era.
Bravo!  Can't wait to read this sequel.

11)   Anything else I forgot to ask you?


Research is very important to me. For books with contemporary subjects, I go to many of the places that I write about. I interview people. I try to do what my characters are doing.  Thus, for a wilderness survival novel, I lived for 35 days in the mountains of Wyoming.  I once spent a fascinating 5 days at the Bill Scott raceway in West Virginia, learning to handle cars the way Secret Service agents do. For a novel about the famous Marfa lights in West Texas (THE SHIMMER), I researched airplane sequences until I became a private pilot.  But there isn’t any way to do hands-on research for 1854 London.  I spent two years reading everything I could about the period until I felt that I could convince readers they were truly on those fogbound streets, hearing unfamiliar words like dollymop, dustman, and dipper.  When I knew how much a middle- or upper-class woman’s clothes weighed (37 pounds), I knew I was prepared. I read and re-read the thousands of pages that Thomas De Quincey wrote until I felt that I was channeling him. An editor joked that I was a ventriloquist for him.
An amazing and life-long adventure of a life!  Thank you for sharing with us.  I look forward to talking again with you in the future.  If only I could capture and  hold you hostage in my living room for a dinner party to have you tell me all you know about De Quincey and some of the authors you mentioned, I would be in heaven.
Rarely have I been so entranced by a book from the introduction to the end.  There was not a moment's break in the action and mystery of this novel.  Thrilling and suspenseful, dark and blood-curdling, this is a book that will live in my mind for years to come. David Morrell is an author of pure genius.  I wonder if he couldn't become one of the world's best detectives himself.
The character who drives the novel, Thomas De Quincey, is brilliant in this role, as well as being a bit frightening, himself, in his struggles with opium addiction.  Brooding and obsessed by the devious murderer who has London thrown into a panic, his focus is deadly.  He is a culled from life figure that reaches out to us with an icy but mesmerizing grip.
Obviously, characterization and mood are strong points for Mr. Morrell.  His London is the smoky Victorian set we've come to love in other formidable books of this era. All of his characters are strong and clinching set in the gas-light era.  They held me in suspense with both their deductions and plots.  The murderer is the like of which I haven't encountered in all my suspense/thriller readings.  He's brutal and conniving like a consciousless beast.  Absolutely horrific, cold and spell-binding in Morrell's capable hands!
I can only tell you this is a book you have to read this year.  It's a rare find.  The action and brooding atmosphere will keep you up for hours into the night.  David Morrell is an extraordinary author in this genre.  Masterful and menacing story!  I highly recommend it.
5 stars plus                  Deborah/TheBookishDame
*NOTE:   This review and interview are brought to you in cooperation with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours:
Please follow the tour, finding other reviews and commentary by clicking this link:



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