Stephanie: David, I really enjoyed reading your novel. It’s one of the best mystery thrillers I have read in a very long time. Not only did you depict London during the 19th century brilliantly, but portrayed how crimes were solved during that time without all the technology we have today. The murder scenes and action scenes are very detailed and intense. How did you shape the actions of your story from beginning to end? Were they difficult to write? Were there any challenges?
David: Thank you, Stephanie. Murder as a Fine Art is based on the idea that someone replicates the original Ratcliffe Highway murders, using Thomas De Quincey’s vivid description of them in his sensational essay “On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts.” Logic suggested that I needed to begin with the new version of the murders. Then I needed to introduce my two Scotland Yard detectives and show them using early crime-scene-analysis techniques. Finally I needed to have them suspect De Quincey (notorious for his memoir, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater), at which point I could introduce him and his wonderful daughter, Emily, whose personalities then controlled the story. The biggest challenge was developing an antagonist that would be a worthy opponent to De Quincey. After all, De Quincey invented the word “subconscious” and anticipated Freud’s psychoanalytic theories by a half-century. The killer needed to have a complex psychological profile so that the reader would feel that only De Quincey could see to his core. De Quincey influenced Edgar Allan Poe, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes, so I decided to put De Quincey at the start of the detective tradition. It was a very exciting project.
Stephanie: What are some of the fictional aspects of the story?
David: The main fictional element is the replication of the original Ratcliffe Highway murders, which paralyzed all of England back in 1811 but weren’t repeated in 1854, as happens in my novel. Otherwise there’s a considerable amount of fact. Thomas De Quincey (an absolutely fascinating literary personality of the period) is presented accurately. Ryan and Becker, the two Scotland Yard detectives, are based on actual detectives of the time. Lord Palmerston is presented as he was, complete with his immense political scheming. Coldfield Baths prison existed as I describe it, complete with the boxes in the cells and the handles that needed to be turned thousands of times before a prisoner was allowed to eat. Britain’s economy was indeed based on the opium trade, and laudanum (a mixture of alcohol and opium) was indeed in every medicine cabinet. Even infants were given it. The evidence suggests that many people in the Victorian era were drug addicts, although the concept of physical and mental addiction didn’t exist then. I tried to make the novel as factual as possible.
Stephanie: What was some of the research involved? How long did it take you to write your story?
David: Murder as a Fine Art was a three-year project. The research took 2 years, but for some of that period I was also writing. De Quincey wrote thousands of pages of essays, memoirs, and fiction. I re-read them many times until I could be a ventriloquist for him. Next I researched his life, eventually becoming Internet friends with his two biographers, Robert Morrison and Grevel Lindop. Then, I accumulated shelves of books about 1854 London and the Victorian era. My goal was to make readers truly feel that they were on those harrowing fogbound streets. I needed to know what the pavement was made of, what sorts of coins were in people’s pockets, and how much a woman’s clothes weighed (37 pounds). Finally I used my academic background (I was a literature professor at the University of Iowa) to research novels in the 1850s so that I could use techniques from that period, in effect writing an imitation Victorian novel.
Stephanie: What are some of the response you have received about your book?
David: The reviews have been excellent. Entertainment Weekly called Murder as Fine Art “a masterful blend of fact and fiction, evoking 1854 London with such finesse that you’ll hear the hooves clattering on cobblestones, the racket of dustmen, and the shrill call of vendors.” Publishers Weekly described it as “an epitome of the intelligent page turner.” The Associated Press described it as “a literary thriller that pushes the envelope of fear.” The Washington Post said, “Murder is rarely this much fun.” The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Suspense Magazine, Mystery Scene, the Providence Sunday Journal—these and others were all enthusiastic.
Stephanie: What is the most single challenging thing about writing historical fiction?
David: Often historical novels are costume dramas that retain modern attitudes and dialogue. In contrast, I wanted Murder as a Fine Art to be an accurate reflection of 1854 London. Because De Quincey anticipated Freud’s theories, I could legitimately include psychological analysis, but otherwise the thoughts and attitudes in the book are specific to the 1850s in London. With each scene, I was constantly on guard against anachronisms. One section involved a lock, and my research led me to discover that locks were quite different in 1854, bolted to the surface of the inside of a door rather than inserted into the body of the door. This became an important plot point. Basically I couldn’t take anything for granted. Every detail needed to be investigated.
Stephanie: What is your next book project?
David: Many readers have asked me to write a second novel about Thomas De Quincey and his amazing daughter, Emily. I normally don’t write sequels, but in this case, I have a lot more to say about them as well as about London in the 1850s.
Stephanie: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
David: I teach writing at various conferences around the country and have a writing book, The Successful Novelist that discusses what I learned in my 41 years as a published author. One of my favorite mantras is “Don’t imitate. Be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of another author.” Another mantra is “Don’t chase the market. You’ll never catch it. Instead write the book that you were meant to write.”
Thank you David for this lovely interview! It was an honor!
I was completely blown away with this novel! So intense, brilliant and intelligently written. The story line was so captivating and the author did a marvelous job depicting this time in England’s history. Rich in mystery, crime, intrigue, and this story really explores the mind of a killer and the people who are trying to catch him. I’m normally a reader of the medieval times but when this book came along for this wonderful book tour, I could not pass it up and I’m glad I didn’t. I highly recommend this story and have rated it five stars!
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/murderasafineartvirtualtour/ Twitter Hashtag: #MurderAsAFineArtTour
GASLIT LONDON IS BROUGHT TO ITS KNEES IN DAVID MORRELL’S BRILLIANT HISTORICAL 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.
—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
For more information on David Morrell and his novels, please visit the official website. You can also follow David on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.