Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Author Interview: David Morrell of Inspector of the Dead


Be sure to check out my review here!


David Morrell’s MURDER AS A FINE ART was a publishing event. Acclaimed by critics, it made readers feel that they were actually on the fogbound streets of Victorian London. Now the harrowing journey continues in INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD.

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.



What is it with British 'detectives' and addictions?  Sherlock Holmes had cocaine and Thomas de Quincey had opium.

It goes back to Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Released in 1821, this was the first time someone had written about drug addiction. It made De Quincey famous. For the rest of his life, he was known as the Opium-Eater. Poe was deeply influenced by De Quincey. It isn’t certain if Poe was a drug addict, but his characters and prose have a drug-like atmosphere. Poe invented the detective story with “The Murders in The Rue Morgue.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle readily admitted that he stole Poe’s format (the eccentric detective and his sidekick reporter) when he created Sherlock Holmes. Holmes’s drug addiction goes straight back to De Quincey.

What was it like having your debut novel made into a movie?

The experience felt surreal. The film rights to Rambo and First Blood were sold in 1972, the year the novel was published. It went through 3 studios and 26 scripts, with people like Steve McQueen and director Sydney Pollack involved. But something always went wrong (that’s normal in Hollywood), and it wasn’t until ten years later that the film was produced. I had stopped believing that it would happen. The film reinterprets Rambo and parts of the plot, but changes are inevitable when transforming a novel into a movie. I like the movie and recorded a full-length audio commentary for the Blu Ray DVD of First Blood, discussing the evolution from novel to screen. The most surreal moment came when I attended an advance screening in which only myself, my wife, and our two children were allowed to see it. The theater was vast, and we felt very tiny.

How long have you been writing?

I started writing First Blood in 1968. It was published in 1972. So we could say I’ve been writing for 47 years and that this is my 43rd year as a published author. That’s an eternity in the publishing world when many careers end after 15 or 20 years. A few years ago, the RT Book Lovers convention gave me a literary pioneer award. The person who called me with the news explained that the award was for authors who dated back to the 1980s and ‘90s that prepared the way for contemporary mystery and thriller authors. I joked,  “In that case, I’ve been around so long, maybe you should give me a pre-pioneer award.”

What are 3 lessons you have learned from writing?

I have  couple of mantras that I teach my writing students. 1. Don’t chase the market. It’ll always be ahead of you 2. Don’t imitate. Be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of another author.

Where does “The Opium-Eater” fit into the 'De Quincey' saga?

“The Opium-Eater” is a prequel to Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead. The novels take place in December of 1854 and February of 1855. But “The Opium-Eater” goes all the way back to 1808-10, around the time De Quincey moved into Dove Cottage after Wordsworth moved out. It’s set in England’s fabulous Lake District and involves a real-life event in which five children were trapped in a remote farmhouse during a mountain blizzard. It’s about the coldest of deaths and the harrowing way in which De Quincey acquired his nickname. An afterword describes a research trip to the Lake District and includes numerous photographs of the locations I describe, especially Dove Cottage, one of England’s most famous literary sites.

Will Thomas De Quincey 'ride again'?

My original plan was to write a trilogy about De Quincey and his fascination with murder as a fine art. His famous essay about the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 created the modern-true-crime genre. Because he invented the word “subconscious” and anticipated the psychoanalytic theories of Freud by more than half a century, I thought he would be a new way to explore what a detective can be, with his wonderful daughter, Emily, as his companion. He keeps asking whether reality is outside us or only in our minds, and he uses that Kantian premise to solve seemingly unsolvable murders. At the same time, my years of research about Victorian England have made me think that I’m literally on those harrowing, fogbound streets. I’m working on the third De Quincey novel. He and 1850s London continue to fascinate me.

If you could invite any writer from history to your house for supper, whom would you invite and what would you talk about?

Without question, it would be De Quincey. His friends described him as a brilliant conversationalist. They joked about holding him prisoner and putting him in a box so that they could bring him out like a child’s toy if a party ever became dull. He was an intimate friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Indeed, he told so many people about Wordsworth’s brilliance (at a time when Wordsworth was ridiculed) that he helped establish Wordsworth’s reputation. I’d love to hear De Quincey talk about his poet friends, especially if the conversation included details such as how Wordsworth used a greasy butter knife to cut open the pages of a newly published book (true story).

What do you like best about being a full-time writer?

During my college years, I worked in factories to pay for my tuition.  In one factory, I was literally shackled to a machine. After twelve-hour night shifts, I often hallucinated about the repetitive, brutal work I did. Writing is a breeze after that sort of labor. In addition, I love getting up in the morning and not knowing what the day will bring. In the Rocky Mountains, where I live, there’s an expression “lone wolf,” which decribes people who live by their wits each day. That pretty much describes me.

Who are your literary influences?

I have a doctorate in American literature from Penn State. For sixteen years, I was a professor at the University of Iowa (in the English department, not the Writer’s Workshop). I taught Hawthorne, Melville, Kate Chopin, Hemingway, Faulkner, Edith Wharton, etc. Those are my general literary influences. But specifically, I learned about writing action scenes from Geoffrey Household’s 1939 classic thriller, Rogue Male. The premise is that a British big-game hunter stalks Hitler on the eve of WWII. In a major narrative surprise, he’s caught on the first page. I learned pacing from James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Going back to Hemingway, my Masters thesis was about his style. I don’t write like him and would never compare myself to him, but his determination to find new ways to tell a story is something that I absorbed.

Say you've accepted to speak about writing at one or more public schools.   What advice would you give young people interested in writing?

Hemingway said that the requirements for a literary career are talent, discipline, and luck. It’s interesting that he emphasized discipline and luck. I know many talented writers who didn’t have careers because they wouldn’t sit down every day and do the work. And I know many talented authors who wrote excellent work but luck didn’t smile on them. When I was seventeen, I made the decision to become an author because of Stirling Silliphant’s amazing scripts for the classic TV series, Route 66. I wrote him a letter, telling him that I wanted to do what he did, and I never stopped pursuing that goal.



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 publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

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