Author: David Morrell
Genre: Fiction (19th Century / London / Murder Mystery / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Victoriana / Drug Use / Parent-Child Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: Mulholland Books (3/24/2015)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A series of high profile and gruesome murders terrify Londoners and notorious author Thomas DeQuincy must assist police and politicians with solving the crimes.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it matches the cover of the previous novel, and I like that it's not typical of the genre. P.S. I want those gloves.
I'm reminded of...: Matthew Pearl, Matt Rees, Dan Simmons
First line: Except for excursions to a theater or a gentleman's club, most respectable inhabitants of the largest city on earth took care to be at home before the sun finished setting, which on this cold Saturday evening, the third of February, occurred at six minutes to five.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy!
Why did I get this book?: I uh-dored the first one.
Review: I've been on pins-and-needles for this book, the second historical mystery featuring notorious Victorian author/drug user Thomas DeQuincy, his daughter Emily, and their friends in Scotland Yard. The first book, Murder as a Fine Art, made my Top Ten of 2013.
My impatience was well rewarded; this book has everything I love in a great historical novel: a plot that drives one into Wiki rabbit holes, an intriguing heroine who is unconventional - but grounded in the era - and historical details that are evocative without being overwhelming.
Set in 1855, just weeks after the end of the first novel, notorious author and opium addict Thomas DeQuincy and his charming bluestocking daughter Emily are being shuffled home to Scotland when a gruesome murder at St. James' Church requires their assistance. It soon emerges that there's a plot to assassinate the queen as a series of grotesque and dramatic murders strike fear in London. (I will say, as someone who is a puss about gross things, the murders were icky but not put-the-book-down disgusting. Just the right side of scary for my tastes!)
The calamitous results of the Crimean war complicate the political stage in London, too, and running parallel to the murder mystery is a storyline of privilege, heroism in war, and class background (which I found more fascinating than the murders, frankly!).
As with the previous novel, Morrell emulates Victorian literature in the narrative style: the novel switches between the point of view of our murderer and our heroes as well as various secondary characters, interspersed with excerpts from Emily's diary, resulting in a rich, dramatic narrative reminiscent of my favorite 19th century thrillers. There's a big cast but Morrell makes everyone vibrant and distinct, and I loved the secondary characters as much as the primary ones.
And while this is a second in a series, it stands well for those unfamiliar with the first book: Morrell provides enough background to make new readers (or those of us, like myself, who forgot a few details) comfortable with the main players and their relationships without spoiling the first book.
Of the characters, Emily once more won my heart; she numbers among my favorite heroines for her mix of sensitivity, moxie, and grace. But I love that Morrell tackles drug use and addiction through DeQuincy -- a topic I rarely see in historical fiction -- and DeQuincy is a sympathetic character, struggling with his demons.
There's a nine-page Afterward as fascinating as the novel and spells out what is based on history and what is Morrell's invention. To my surprise, more was historical than I expected!
It should go without saying that I can't wait for the next book in the series, should there be one. A detail-laden delight for those who dig the Victorian era, murder mysteries, or heroines who rock bloomers.
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