358 • about the author

Eventually wearying of two professions, Morrell gave up his academic
tenure in order to write full time. Shortly afterward, his fifteen- year- old
son, Matthew, was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and died in
1987 , a loss that haunts not only Morrell’s life but also his work, as in his
memoir about Matthew, Fireflies, and his novel Desperate Measures, whose
main character lost a son.
“The mild- mannered professor with the bloody- minded visions,” as
one reviewer called him, Morrell is the author of more than thirty works,
including such high- action thrillers as The Naked Edge, Creepers, and The
Spy Who Came for Christmas (set in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he
lives). His writing book, The Successful Novelist, analyzes what he has
learned during his four decades as an author.
Morrell is an Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity nominee as well as a
three- time recipient of the distinguished Stoker Award from the Horror
Writers Association. The International Thriller Writers organization
gave him its prestigious career- achievement Thriller Master Award. His
work has been translated into twenty- six languages.
To send him an e-mail, please go to the contact page at his website,
www.davidmorrell.net.
Reading Group Guide
Murder as a
Fine Art
D M
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 359 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
A conversation between
David Morrell and Robert Morrison
Following is a discussion between novelist David Morrell and Robert
Morrison — author of The English Opium Eater: A Biography of Thomas
De Quincey and Queen’s National Scholar and professor of nineteenth-
century British literature, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario — about
Murder as a Fine Art.
Robert Morrison: I love the idea behind Murder as a Fine Art.
John Williams commits a series of sensational killings in
1811. Thomas De Quincey writes his most powerful essay
about the killings in 1854. Somebody reads De Quincey on
Williams and decides to produce his own version of the
killings, far exceeding them in terror. How did this idea
come to you?
David Morrell: Robert, coming from a De Quincey scholar,
your enthusiasm means a lot to me. I studied De Quincey
years ago when I was an undergraduate English student.
My professor treated him as a footnote in 1800s literature,
giving him importance only because De Quincey was the
first to write about drug addiction in his notorious Confes-
sions of an English Opium-Eater. I forgot about him until I
happened to watch a movie about Charles Darwin, Creation,
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 360 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
A conversation between
David Morrell and Robert Morrison
Following is a discussion between novelist David Morrell and Robert
Morrison — author of The English Opium Eater: A Biography of Thomas
De Quincey and Queen’s National Scholar and professor of nineteenth-
century British literature, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario — about
Murder as a Fine Art.
Robert Morrison: I love the idea behind Murder as a Fine Art.
John Williams commits a series of sensational killings in
1811. Thomas De Quincey writes his most powerful essay
about the killings in 1854. Somebody reads De Quincey on
Williams and decides to produce his own version of the
killings, far exceeding them in terror. How did this idea
come to you?
David Morrell: Robert, coming from a De Quincey scholar,
your enthusiasm means a lot to me. I studied De Quincey
years ago when I was an undergraduate English student.
My professor treated him as a footnote in 1800s literature,
giving him importance only because De Quincey was the
first to write about drug addiction in his notorious Confes-
sions of an English Opium-Eater. I forgot about him until I
happened to watch a movie about Charles Darwin, Creation,
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 361 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
reading group gui de • 5
He could be, by turns, humorous, conversational, elaborate,
or impassioned. And this great ability as a stylist made it
possible for him to chart his experience with remarkable
depth and energy. After that, and like you, I just kept read-
ing. One of the wonderful things about Murder as a Fine Art
is how vividly it brings De Quincey to life, and how compel-
lingly it exploits his fascination with dreams, violence, mem-
ory, and addiction. It’s not only a superb thriller, but it also
packs an intellectual punch. How did you bring these two
elements together so successfully?
DM: A reviewer once called me “the mild-mannered professor
with the bloody-minded visions.”
RM: Ha!
DM: Yes, it makes me laugh too. I was a literature professor for
many years, one of several things that you and I have in
common. When I was in college, I worked in factories to
pay my tuition. Some of my fellow workers read thrillers
during their breaks, and I started wondering if it was possi-
ble to write a thriller that would appeal to two kinds of
readers — those in my factory life and those in my college
life. The former wanted an exciting story to distract them
from their jobs, and the latter wanted a story to have what
literature professors call subtext. From the start, with First
Blood, I followed that approach, but with De Quincey, I felt
like I’d struck the mother lode. On the one hand, he writes
in blood-soaked detail about the Ratcliffe Highway
murders. On the other hand, he layers the killings with
amazingly complex perceptions. The two elements —
visceral and intellectual — came together. Your biography
of De Quincey was a big help to me. Did you have any
scholarly adventures as you researched it, any discoveries
and revelations?
4 • reading group gui de
which dramatizes the nervous breakdown Darwin suffered
while writing On the Origin of Species. In the movie, some-
one says to Darwin, “You know, Charles, people such as
De Quincey believe that we’re controlled by elements in our
mind that we’re not aware of.”
RM: It sounds like Freud.
DM: Yes. But Freud didn’t publish until half a century later. In
fact, because De Quincey invented the word subconscious,
Freud may have been influenced by him. Anyway, I took
down my old college textbook, started reading De Quincey,
and became spellbound. I read more and more of his work.
Then I got to his blood-soaked essay about the terrifying
Ratcliffe Highway murders, “On Murder Considered as One
of the Fine Arts.” The idea came to me that someone would
read the essay and, for complicated reasons, replicate the
murders on a more horrifying scale. De Quincey, the Opium-
Eater who was obsessed with murder, would then be the
logical suspect. You wrote a terrific biography about De
Quincey, The English Opium-Eater. What caused your own
interest in this brilliant author?
RM: I first heard of De Quincey many years ago when I was a
graduate student at Oxford. My tutor was Jonathan Words-
worth, the great-great-great-nephew of the poet.
DM: What an experience that must have been.
RM: For one of my tutorial assignments, Jonathan asked me to
read De Quincey’s Confessions. I had no idea what to expect,
and certainly no idea that I was going to spend the next
thirty years hooked on him. Of course I found the drugs
and addiction part of the narrative very interesting. But
what really grabbed me was how well De Quincey wrote.
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 362 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
reading group gui de • 5
He could be, by turns, humorous, conversational, elaborate,
or impassioned. And this great ability as a stylist made it
possible for him to chart his experience with remarkable
depth and energy. After that, and like you, I just kept read-
ing. One of the wonderful things about Murder as a Fine Art
is how vividly it brings De Quincey to life, and how compel-
lingly it exploits his fascination with dreams, violence, mem-
ory, and addiction. It’s not only a superb thriller, but it also
packs an intellectual punch. How did you bring these two
elements together so successfully?
DM: A reviewer once called me “the mild-mannered professor
with the bloody-minded visions.”
RM: Ha!
DM: Yes, it makes me laugh too. I was a literature professor for
many years, one of several things that you and I have in
common. When I was in college, I worked in factories to
pay my tuition. Some of my fellow workers read thrillers
during their breaks, and I started wondering if it was possi-
ble to write a thriller that would appeal to two kinds of
readers — those in my factory life and those in my college
life. The former wanted an exciting story to distract them
from their jobs, and the latter wanted a story to have what
literature professors call subtext. From the start, with First
Blood, I followed that approach, but with De Quincey, I felt
like I’d struck the mother lode. On the one hand, he writes
in blood-soaked detail about the Ratcliffe Highway
murders. On the other hand, he layers the killings with
amazingly complex perceptions. The two elements —
visceral and intellectual — came together. Your biography
of De Quincey was a big help to me. Did you have any
scholarly adventures as you researched it, any discoveries
and revelations?
4 • reading group gui de
which dramatizes the nervous breakdown Darwin suffered
while writing On the Origin of Species. In the movie, some-
one says to Darwin, “You know, Charles, people such as
De Quincey believe that we’re controlled by elements in our
mind that we’re not aware of.”
RM: It sounds like Freud.
DM: Yes. But Freud didn’t publish until half a century later. In
fact, because De Quincey invented the word subconscious,
Freud may have been influenced by him. Anyway, I took
down my old college textbook, started reading De Quincey,
and became spellbound. I read more and more of his work.
Then I got to his blood-soaked essay about the terrifying
Ratcliffe Highway murders, “On Murder Considered as One
of the Fine Arts.” The idea came to me that someone would
read the essay and, for complicated reasons, replicate the
murders on a more horrifying scale. De Quincey, the Opium-
Eater who was obsessed with murder, would then be the
logical suspect. You wrote a terrific biography about De
Quincey, The English Opium-Eater. What caused your own
interest in this brilliant author?
RM: I first heard of De Quincey many years ago when I was a
graduate student at Oxford. My tutor was Jonathan Words-
worth, the great-great-great-nephew of the poet.
DM: What an experience that must have been.
RM: For one of my tutorial assignments, Jonathan asked me to
read De Quincey’s Confessions. I had no idea what to expect,
and certainly no idea that I was going to spend the next
thirty years hooked on him. Of course I found the drugs
and addiction part of the narrative very interesting. But
what really grabbed me was how well De Quincey wrote.
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 363 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
reading group gui de • 7
RM: The letters gave me all sorts of new information about De
Quincey and led me to revise the biography in twenty-one
places, most noticeably when it came to De Quincey’s rela-
tionship with his three daughters, Margaret, Florence, and
Emily. In Murder as a Fine Art, Emily De Quincey is of
pivotal importance. What intrigued you about her? How
and why did you make her such a vital part of the action?
DM: When I decided to bring De Quincey to 1854 London, I
needed to give him a companion.
RM: Your own version of Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes.
DM: The comparison is apt. De Quincey inspired Edgar Allan
Poe, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create
Sherlock Holmes, so when I chose De Quincey as the hero
of this thriller, I was definitely thinking about the origins of
the detective genre. Anyway, one of De Quincey’s daughters
was the likely candidate. Margaret and Florence had estab-
lished their own families by then, so that left Emily, who
was twenty-one and offered all sorts of possibilities.
RM: Because not much is known about her?
DM: Exactly. With De Quincey, I needed to be scrupulously
loyal to the facts, but with Emily, I had more latitude. De
Quincey used his children to help him evade his numerous
debt collectors. They would sneak over fences, through
holes in walls and windows, bringing food and writing
supplies to wherever he was hiding. Then they would take
his manuscripts to his publishers in the same clandestine
way and sneak money back to him. After he took a small
amount of money for his basic needs, he told the children to
deliver the rest to their mother.
6 • reading group gui de
RM: Writing the biography was definitely an adventure. As
you’re aware, the most well-known modern derivative of
opium is heroin, and while working on the book I had long
discussions with two heroin addicts, one of whom was still
using, and another of whom was in his third recovery. I
asked them to read the sections in the biography where I
talk specifically about De Quincey and drugs, and their
comments really gave me a much better understanding of
what it is like to live with opiates. They also helped me to
realize that De Quincey must have been an alcoholic as well
as an opium addict, for he ingested opium as “laudanum”
(opium dissolved in alcohol), which means that he was
consuming vast quantities of both substances.
DM: Vast quantities indeed. At the peak of his addiction, De
Quincey drank sixteen ounces of laudanum each day. The
alcohol alone would have affected him, not to mention
the opium. Yet somehow he was able to write some of the
most brilliant prose of the 1800s.
RM: My biggest adventure in writing the biography came six
days after I finished it, when I was casually leafing through
a London bookseller’s catalog and saw the following item
for sale: “119 Autograph Letters by De Quincey’s Three
Daughters: A Significant New Source for the Author’s
Life.” David, I fell out of my chair. A “new source”? I had
finished my biography less than a week earlier, and it was
already out of date! Needless to say, I phoned my publisher,
hollered “Stop the presses,” flew to London two days later,
and then had the exhilarating experience of reading through
the 119 letters.
DM: It sounds like a scene from a literary thriller. Your heart
must have been pounding.
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 364 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
reading group gui de • 7
RM: The letters gave me all sorts of new information about De
Quincey and led me to revise the biography in twenty-one
places, most noticeably when it came to De Quincey’s rela-
tionship with his three daughters, Margaret, Florence, and
Emily. In Murder as a Fine Art, Emily De Quincey is of
pivotal importance. What intrigued you about her? How
and why did you make her such a vital part of the action?
DM: When I decided to bring De Quincey to 1854 London, I
needed to give him a companion.
RM: Your own version of Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes.
DM: The comparison is apt. De Quincey inspired Edgar Allan
Poe, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create
Sherlock Holmes, so when I chose De Quincey as the hero
of this thriller, I was definitely thinking about the origins of
the detective genre. Anyway, one of De Quincey’s daughters
was the likely candidate. Margaret and Florence had estab-
lished their own families by then, so that left Emily, who
was twenty-one and offered all sorts of possibilities.
RM: Because not much is known about her?
DM: Exactly. With De Quincey, I needed to be scrupulously
loyal to the facts, but with Emily, I had more latitude. De
Quincey used his children to help him evade his numerous
debt collectors. They would sneak over fences, through
holes in walls and windows, bringing food and writing
supplies to wherever he was hiding. Then they would take
his manuscripts to his publishers in the same clandestine
way and sneak money back to him. After he took a small
amount of money for his basic needs, he told the children to
deliver the rest to their mother.
6 • reading group gui de
RM: Writing the biography was definitely an adventure. As
you’re aware, the most well-known modern derivative of
opium is heroin, and while working on the book I had long
discussions with two heroin addicts, one of whom was still
using, and another of whom was in his third recovery. I
asked them to read the sections in the biography where I
talk specifically about De Quincey and drugs, and their
comments really gave me a much better understanding of
what it is like to live with opiates. They also helped me to
realize that De Quincey must have been an alcoholic as well
as an opium addict, for he ingested opium as “laudanum”
(opium dissolved in alcohol), which means that he was
consuming vast quantities of both substances.
DM: Vast quantities indeed. At the peak of his addiction, De
Quincey drank sixteen ounces of laudanum each day. The
alcohol alone would have affected him, not to mention
the opium. Yet somehow he was able to write some of the
most brilliant prose of the 1800s.
RM: My biggest adventure in writing the biography came six
days after I finished it, when I was casually leafing through
a London bookseller’s catalog and saw the following item
for sale: “119 Autograph Letters by De Quincey’s Three
Daughters: A Significant New Source for the Author’s
Life.” David, I fell out of my chair. A “new source”? I had
finished my biography less than a week earlier, and it was
already out of date! Needless to say, I phoned my publisher,
hollered “Stop the presses,” flew to London two days later,
and then had the exhilarating experience of reading through
the 119 letters.
DM: It sounds like a scene from a literary thriller. Your heart
must have been pounding.
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 365 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
8 • reading group gui de
RM: So you had evidence that Emily was street-smart and
athletic — all those fences and windows.
DM: I was reading between the lines of your biography of him.
His daughters grew up in an intellectual household and had
independent attitudes because of the radical-thinking
people he knew. Thus in my novel Emily became not only
De Quincey’s spy but also a delightfully outspoken woman
whose advanced ideas make people in the novel gape. As
one example, Emily refuses to wear the awkward thirty-
seven-pound hooped dresses of the period and instead
prefers a loose dress with trousers underneath, a garment
known as a bloomer dress that was named after an early
feminist named Amelia Bloomer. She constantly outsmarts
constables, undertakers, and even England’s home secretary.
I always smiled when I wrote a scene that Emily dominated.
It occurs to me that we’re in a long-overdue De Quincey
renaissance. Tell me about the various De Quincey publica-
tions that you’re editing.
RM: A renaissance indeed. It’s gratifying to think that we’re
part of it. Murder as a Fine Art will reach a wide audience
and play a major role in furthering interest in De Quincey’s
life and writings. On my side, my new edition of Confessions
of an English Opium-Eater was recently published by Oxford
University Press. I’m really excited about it. I thought I
knew the Confessions pretty well, and yet when I sat down to
edit his memoir, I discovered all sorts of things that I hadn’t
noticed before, especially in the magnificent dream sequence
at the end. Right now, I’m working on a much longer selec-
tion of De Quincey that will be published in the 21st-
Century Oxford Authors series. The edition will contain all
of De Quincey’s finest work, including his great essays on
murder and his articles about his friends Wordsworth,
reading group gui de • 9
Coleridge, and other literary stars of the time. I think of it as
equivalent to a De Quincey’s Greatest Hits album.
DM: De Quincey was so cool that if he were alive today, I
think he’d approve of the metaphor. His prose can be so
vivid that sometimes I think he is still alive. I read his thou-
sands of pages so often that after a while I felt that I was
channeling him. One of my own adventures in writing
Murder as a Fine Art was the chance to become friends with
you and to share our enthusiasm for all things De Quincey.
Thanks, Robert.
This interview first appeared on mulhollandbooks.com, April 2013.
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 366 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
8 • reading group gui de
RM: So you had evidence that Emily was street-smart and
athletic — all those fences and windows.
DM: I was reading between the lines of your biography of him.
His daughters grew up in an intellectual household and had
independent attitudes because of the radical-thinking
people he knew. Thus in my novel Emily became not only
De Quincey’s spy but also a delightfully outspoken woman
whose advanced ideas make people in the novel gape. As
one example, Emily refuses to wear the awkward thirty-
seven-pound hooped dresses of the period and instead
prefers a loose dress with trousers underneath, a garment
known as a bloomer dress that was named after an early
feminist named Amelia Bloomer. She constantly outsmarts
constables, undertakers, and even England’s home secretary.
I always smiled when I wrote a scene that Emily dominated.
It occurs to me that we’re in a long-overdue De Quincey
renaissance. Tell me about the various De Quincey publica-
tions that you’re editing.
RM: A renaissance indeed. It’s gratifying to think that we’re
part of it. Murder as a Fine Art will reach a wide audience
and play a major role in furthering interest in De Quincey’s
life and writings. On my side, my new edition of Confessions
of an English Opium-Eater was recently published by Oxford
University Press. I’m really excited about it. I thought I
knew the Confessions pretty well, and yet when I sat down to
edit his memoir, I discovered all sorts of things that I hadn’t
noticed before, especially in the magnificent dream sequence
at the end. Right now, I’m working on a much longer selec-
tion of De Quincey that will be published in the 21st-
Century Oxford Authors series. The edition will contain all
of De Quincey’s finest work, including his great essays on
murder and his articles about his friends Wordsworth,
reading group gui de • 9
Coleridge, and other literary stars of the time. I think of it as
equivalent to a De Quincey’s Greatest Hits album.
DM: De Quincey was so cool that if he were alive today, I
think he’d approve of the metaphor. His prose can be so
vivid that sometimes I think he is still alive. I read his thou-
sands of pages so often that after a while I felt that I was
channeling him. One of my own adventures in writing
Murder as a Fine Art was the chance to become friends with
you and to share our enthusiasm for all things De Quincey.
Thanks, Robert.
This interview first appeared on mulhollandbooks.com, April 2013.
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 367 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
Worlds Colliding
My name is David Morrell.
I write thrillers.
On occasion, people are puzzled when they learn that I also have a
PhD in American literature from Penn State and that I was a full profes-
sor at the University of Iowa, where I taught Hawthorne, Melville, Henry
James, and Edith Wharton.
For me, the two worlds blend perfectly. In my youth, I earned the
money for my undergraduate tuition by working twelve-hour night shifts
in factories. In one memorable task, I made fenders for automobiles,
shredding several pairs of thick leather gloves during each shift as I han-
dled razor-sharp sheets of metal. When I was transferred to another area
of the factory, the man who replaced me lost both his hands in the fender-
molding machine.
I noticed that, even though the workers had the glazed look of zom-
bies, they read books during their lunch hour. When I looked closer, I
discovered that every book was a thriller. The excitement of the plots took
the laborers away from the terrible tedium of their lives.
One morning, after my factory shift ended, I drove to the nearby uni-
versity, where I was scheduled to meet with my adviser about the require-
ments for finishing my BA studies. During that drive, I had an epiphany.
I had already made the decision to become a writer, and I had no doubt
reading group gui de • 11
that I wanted to write thrillers. After all, they had given me a psychologi-
cal escape when I was a child and family arguments so frightened me
that I frequently slept under my bed. I knew that the kind of stories that
had been my salvation would be the kind of stories I would write.
But how would I do it?
My epiphany came in this form. Struck by the contrast between the
factory I had left and the university I approached, I wondered if it was
possible to write thrillers that satisfied two different types of readers at the
same time: those eager for distraction, and those who wanted the kinds of
themes and techniques that I was accustomed to in university literature
courses. A thriller — by definition — must be thrilling. Could it accom-
plish that primary goal and simultaneously have other purposes? I was
reminded of illustrations that seem to depict one thing when observed
from a particular angle and then depict something else when seen from a
different perspective.
Back in 1915, Van Wyck Brooks, a famous analyst of American culture,
deplored the use of “highbrow” and “lowbrow” as labels that critics used to
categorize fiction. Brooks condemned both extremes and suggested that
there weren’t inferior forms of fiction, only inferior practitioners. In his
view, it was possible for popular fiction to have serious intentions without
ever sacrificing entertainment appeal and narrative drive.
That became my goal. The letters I get from readers that most gratify
me are of two different types. In one, readers thank me for distracting
them from the harsh reality of fires, car accidents, lost jobs, divorces, seri-
ous medical problems, and similar calamities. In the second kind of letter,
readers tell me that, when they reread my books, themes and techniques
that weren’t obvious on first reading suddenly emerge from the back-
ground, with the result that the books become different with a later
reading.
This shifting nature of reality, depending on the angle from which we
perceive it, is one of my favorite themes. My novel Murder as a Fine Art
takes place in 1854 London. Its main character, Thomas De Quincey, uses
the theories of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (“Does reality
exist objectively or only in our minds?”) to solve a series of mass killings
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 368 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
Worlds Colliding
My name is David Morrell.
I write thrillers.
On occasion, people are puzzled when they learn that I also have a
PhD in American literature from Penn State and that I was a full profes-
sor at the University of Iowa, where I taught Hawthorne, Melville, Henry
James, and Edith Wharton.
For me, the two worlds blend perfectly. In my youth, I earned the
money for my undergraduate tuition by working twelve-hour night shifts
in factories. In one memorable task, I made fenders for automobiles,
shredding several pairs of thick leather gloves during each shift as I han-
dled razor-sharp sheets of metal. When I was transferred to another area
of the factory, the man who replaced me lost both his hands in the fender-
molding machine.
I noticed that, even though the workers had the glazed look of zom-
bies, they read books during their lunch hour. When I looked closer, I
discovered that every book was a thriller. The excitement of the plots took
the laborers away from the terrible tedium of their lives.
One morning, after my factory shift ended, I drove to the nearby uni-
versity, where I was scheduled to meet with my adviser about the require-
ments for finishing my BA studies. During that drive, I had an epiphany.
I had already made the decision to become a writer, and I had no doubt
reading group gui de • 11
that I wanted to write thrillers. After all, they had given me a psychologi-
cal escape when I was a child and family arguments so frightened me
that I frequently slept under my bed. I knew that the kind of stories that
had been my salvation would be the kind of stories I would write.
But how would I do it?
My epiphany came in this form. Struck by the contrast between the
factory I had left and the university I approached, I wondered if it was
possible to write thrillers that satisfied two different types of readers at the
same time: those eager for distraction, and those who wanted the kinds of
themes and techniques that I was accustomed to in university literature
courses. A thriller — by definition — must be thrilling. Could it accom-
plish that primary goal and simultaneously have other purposes? I was
reminded of illustrations that seem to depict one thing when observed
from a particular angle and then depict something else when seen from a
different perspective.
Back in 1915, Van Wyck Brooks, a famous analyst of American culture,
deplored the use of “highbrow” and “lowbrow” as labels that critics used to
categorize fiction. Brooks condemned both extremes and suggested that
there weren’t inferior forms of fiction, only inferior practitioners. In his
view, it was possible for popular fiction to have serious intentions without
ever sacrificing entertainment appeal and narrative drive.
That became my goal. The letters I get from readers that most gratify
me are of two different types. In one, readers thank me for distracting
them from the harsh reality of fires, car accidents, lost jobs, divorces, seri-
ous medical problems, and similar calamities. In the second kind of letter,
readers tell me that, when they reread my books, themes and techniques
that weren’t obvious on first reading suddenly emerge from the back-
ground, with the result that the books become different with a later
reading.
This shifting nature of reality, depending on the angle from which we
perceive it, is one of my favorite themes. My novel Murder as a Fine Art
takes place in 1854 London. Its main character, Thomas De Quincey, uses
the theories of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (“Does reality
exist objectively or only in our minds?”) to solve a series of mass killings
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 369 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
12 • reading group gui de
that imitate the infamous Ratcliffe Highway murders of forty-three years
earlier.
Call me schizophrenic — or the sum of my contradictions. All these
years after I left the factory where I worked and drove toward the univer-
sity where I studied, I continue to be two separate people when I write,
with two different kinds of readers in my imagination.
This essay first appeared on mulhollandbooks.com, November 2011.
Questions and topics for discussion
1. Thomas De Quincey, the protagonist of Murder as a Fine Art, is based
on a person of historical record, a writer popular in the 1800s. What
do you think the novel says about De Quincey? What does the novel
convey specifically about addiction, given De Quincey’s dependence
on laudanum, a medicinal form of opium that was once commonplace
in English households?
2. What did you think of De Quincey’s daughter Emily? How would
you describe her relationship with her father, and would you care for
him in the same way if you were in her shoes? What does Murder as a
Fine Art reveal about gender roles in Victorian society and how they
might or might not have been in a state of flux?
3. David Morrell researched the period and setting of his novel in great
detail. What about the novel’s depiction of Victorian society most
surprised you? What do you think the novel tells us about class
mobility and social stratification?
4. What literary works do you think influenced Morrell the most in the
writing of Murder as a Fine Art ? Did the writing style or characters
remind you of the style or the characters of another author’s work in
particular or any other novel in Morrell’s body of work?
5. Who did you think might be responsible for the killings in Murder as a
Fine Art leading up to the novel’s central revelation? Were you surprised
at the killer’s identity? How did you react when the secret was revealed?
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 370 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
12 • reading group gui de
that imitate the infamous Ratcliffe Highway murders of forty-three years
earlier.
Call me schizophrenic — or the sum of my contradictions. All these
years after I left the factory where I worked and drove toward the univer-
sity where I studied, I continue to be two separate people when I write,
with two different kinds of readers in my imagination.
This essay first appeared on mulhollandbooks.com, November 2011.
Questions and topics for discussion
1. Thomas De Quincey, the protagonist of Murder as a Fine Art, is based
on a person of historical record, a writer popular in the 1800s. What
do you think the novel says about De Quincey? What does the novel
convey specifically about addiction, given De Quincey’s dependence
on laudanum, a medicinal form of opium that was once commonplace
in English households?
2. What did you think of De Quincey’s daughter Emily? How would
you describe her relationship with her father, and would you care for
him in the same way if you were in her shoes? What does Murder as a
Fine Art reveal about gender roles in Victorian society and how they
might or might not have been in a state of flux?
3. David Morrell researched the period and setting of his novel in great
detail. What about the novel’s depiction of Victorian society most
surprised you? What do you think the novel tells us about class
mobility and social stratification?
4. What literary works do you think influenced Morrell the most in the
writing of Murder as a Fine Art ? Did the writing style or characters
remind you of the style or the characters of another author’s work in
particular or any other novel in Morrell’s body of work?
5. Who did you think might be responsible for the killings in Murder as a
Fine Art leading up to the novel’s central revelation? Were you surprised
at the killer’s identity? How did you react when the secret was revealed?
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 371 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM
14 • reading group gui de
6. Were you familiar with Thomas De Quincey before reading Murder
as a Fine Art ? What, if anything, did Morrell’s novel teach you about
the writer or his work? Will you be picking up anything written by
Thomas De Quincey after reading Morrell’s novel, and if so, what?
7. What do you think the novel’s depiction of criminality and of its two
central members of the police force, Detective Inspector Ryan and
Constable Becker, says about the law enforcement of the time?
8. Murder as a Fine Art ends with the hint of romantic potential between
Emily De Quincey and either Detective Inspector Ryan or Constable
Becker. Which suitor do you think would be a better match for Emily
and why?
MurderAsFineAr_TPtextF1.indd 372 4/16/14 12:53:15 AM

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