Title: Murder as a Fine Art
Author: David Morrell
Narrator: Matthew Wolf
Audiobook Length: 12 hour, 43 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 24 June 2013
Bottom Line: Decent mystery, interesting social commentary
“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.
Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer, whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten.”
Thoughts: In some aspects, it appears as if Mr. Morrell is trying too hard to appeal to modern readers. Emily De Quincey is just one example. Her demeanor is one that befits a 21st-century woman rather than a 19th-century one. Her position as her father’s personal and professional assistant exposes her to a wide variety of topics a young woman in her position would never know normally, let alone discuss openly with strange men. Even her refusal to adhere to contemporary dress styles sets her apart from her peers, but modern readers will appreciate her more modern sensibilities and refusal to submit to societal decorum of the day. While she is appealing, there is also something jarring about Emily, as if she is too contradictory for the era in which the story takes place. Mr. Morrell makes a point of establishing Emily as the exact opposite of almost every other female, at which point Emily no longer is an enjoyable addition but rather an unnerving lecture on old-school thinking about the limitations of women.
The mystery itself is interesting. Mr. Morrell provides enough hints as to the culprit’s identity to keep a reader actively engaged as the story unfolds. However, he does ultimately end up using too many clues as the big reveal is not really all that big by the time it occurs. Where the story excels is in the beginning forays into detective work and Scotland Yard’s infancy. The detectives working alongside De Quincey use rudimentary but familiar techniques for preserving potential clues and eliminating bias from a crime scene. They also symbolize the reading audience with the dubiousness they share towards De Quincey’s more preposterous ideas. They are definitely Watson to De Quincey’s Holmes however, as De Quincey is the shining star behind the story’s resolution, addiction and all.
Matthew Wolf is a great narrator for the story at hand. He perfectly vacillates between the street slang of the detectives and the more polished vocabulary of the literati. His voice is soothing but not soporific, and he balances the more convenient plot elements with a healthy level of skepticism. With his great pacing and excellent use of accents, Mr. Wolf makes the London streets come alive.
Murder as a Fine Art is an interesting whodunit in the same vein as Sherlock Holmes or Wilkie Collins. De Quincey provides the logic and wisdom while the Scotland Yard detectives and Emily are the audience De Quincey needs to test his hypotheses. The detectives also provide a modern vibe with their concern about deliberate and careful evidence gathering as well as avoiding jumping to conclusions, as the mob tends to do time and again throughout the story. In addition, the story provides a socioeconomic statement, as it showcases several excellent examples of perception skewing the facts and assumptions blinding people to the truth. The prejudice towards De Quincey for being an opium addict is no different than the prejudice exhibited towards alcoholics or heroin addicts today, even though he is the only one with enough knowledge to break the case. Mr. Morrell manages to infuse his mystery with a cautionary tale that adds depth and interest to what would otherwise be a fairly one-dimensional, traditional murder mystery.