Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: Inspector of the Dead by David Morrell

Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his Confessions of an Opium-Eater, confronts London’s harrowing streets to thwart the assassination of Queen Victoria.

The year is 1855. The Crimean War is raging. The incompetence of British commanders causes the fall of the English government. The Empire teeters.

Amid this crisis comes opium-eater Thomas De Quincey, one of the most notorious and brilliant personalities of Victorian England. Along with his irrepressible daughter, Emily, and their Scotland Yard companions, Ryan and Becker, De Quincey finds himself confronted by an adversary who threatens the heart of the nation.

This killer targets members of the upper echelons of British society, leaving with each corpse the name of someone who previously attempted to kill Queen Victoria. The evidence indicates that the ultimate victim will be Victoria herself. As De Quincey and Emily race to protect the queen, they uncover long-buried secrets and the heartbreaking past of a man whose lust for revenge has destroyed his soul.

Brilliantly merging historical fact with fiction, Inspector of the Dead is based on actual attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria.



Victorian London.  Foggy streets.  A world of contradictions.  The world that would give rise to Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty.  The world that had in it Morrell's De Quincey and his murdering foe (but I cannot reveal that name at this time).  There were the glitterati of the British Empire, and the starving beggars in the street.  A world where even the Queen-Empress herself was subject to numerous assassination attempts.

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn between Holmes and DeQuincey.  Holmes had his "7% solution' of cocaine.  DeQuincey had his opium.  Both had a talent for seeing what others did not or could not see and solving crimes that stumped the local and/or federal officers of the law.  Both had loyal companions who tried to temper their drug use.

Morrell draws us through his story with patience and skill, much like a confidante we would ask to escort us through a place we both could not resist yet feared to tread.  

Denizens of society's top drawers are being murdered in very public places and found with notes containing one name from the list of Queen Victoria's attempted assassins.  Public pressure to find the killer mounts faster than the number of bodies.

While on the other side of the tracks, crimes just as heinous are being committed and no one seems to give a hoot.  Consider one boy's story.  His mother, an honest and talented seamstress, is accused by a merchant of shoplifting after she refuses his advances.  She is sent to jail.  The jailers are told she is there for debt, so her daughters are allowed to join her.  Meanwhile the boy's father dies.  In the prison, the mother and young girls are abused (yes, in that way) by the guards.  The older sister smothers her sibling and mother and then kills herself to avoid 'the shame'.  So the boy is bereft of his family, through no fault of their own, simply because their 'betters' (how I wish there was a font that dripped sarcasm) lied while accusing them.  And this family's story was by no means  out of the ordinary.

No wonder the boy grew up twisted psychologically.  No wonder he grew up to start knocking off some of those 'better people' one by one.  No wonder he may have had designs on finally accomplishing what the earlier would-be assassins had been unable to do - and kill Queen Victoria.

And no, that does not excuse his crimes.  But could they have been averted if that one merchant who had accused his mother had actually been a 'better' person?

If you are like me, your emotions will be all over the board while reading Inspector of the Dead.  I was astonished at the killer's nerve when members of society's elite entered public places, and were discovered murdered a short while later, and the public did not see a killer leave.  I was angered and haunted by the injustices of society toward the less fortunate.  I was awed by De Quincey's ability to make leaps of intuition and insight despite his addiction.

And, last but not least, any written work of David Morrell's that I have not already read, is absolutely going on my TBR (to-be-read) list before this day is through.


(photo by Jennifer Esperanza)
David Morrell is an Edgar, Nero, Anthony, and Macavity nominee as well as a recipient of the prestigious career-achievement Thriller Master away from the International Thriller Writers. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include the classic espionage novel. The Brotherhood of the Rose, the basis for the only television mini-series to be broadcast after a Super Bowl. A former literature professor at the University of Iowa, Morrell has a PhD from Pennsylvania State University. His latest novel is INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, a sequel to his highly acclaimed Victorian mystery/thriller, Murder as a Fine Art, which Publishers Weekly called ”one of the top ten mystery/thrillers of 2013.”

For more information visit David Morrell’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


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(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers via HFVBT in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)


  1. I have never heard of this book- but from your review it sounds fascinating. I am so curious about it and have added it to my TBR list. Thanks for sharing it with us. :)

    1. Oh, it IS, Jess. It's funny, I 'saw' the book in color, yet it had an old-time B&W feel to it. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. This sounds like one for me and I have added it to my TBR! I love of a sarcastic character, and I also want to try a historical fiction mystery. The cover is brilliant too. Thanks for the review and introducing this one to me! ^.^