Inspector of the Dead: Thomas de Quincy Mysteries, Book 2

Written by David Morrell
Review by Waheed Rabbani

This novel opens in 1855 in London, on the heels of its prequel, Murder as a Fine Art. De Quincy, his daughter Emily, and Inspector Ryan are recuperating, as guests of Lord Palmerston in his Piccadilly mansion. Although Emily and De Quincy were due to depart that Sunday, following the government’s collapse, they get embroiled in investigating another series of grisly murders. One occurred while they were attending St. James’ Church. Lady Cosgrove is found in her pew with her throat slashed. A note near her corpse, and similar ones on the slaughtered bodies of other London gentry, read “Young England”. This is a reference to the group that, decades earlier, attempted to assassinate Queen Victoria. The constabulary, Emily, and Quincy—using his exceptional (opium-enhanced) philosophical knowledge in Holmes-and-Watson style—strive to find the serial killer quickly. Her Majesty might be again in danger.

David Morrell’s extensive research into Victorian norms and life, and his vivid descriptions of foggy London streets, squalid homes, palatial mansions, Queen Victoria’s eighteen-course dinner party, and so on, might seem too detailed to some, but they are nevertheless a pleasure to read. They complement the thrilling murder mystery, which is entertaining despite the grisly homicide scenes, which are depicted like those in modern TV crime dramas. The killer is presented compassionately and, while some readers might spot the murderer early on, Morrell’s evocative writing keeps us turning the pages. The novel has unique insights, too, such as the government’s schemes to build the future Suez Canal, drug addiction, and the plight of the Irish; these add depth to the story. Written mostly in the third person, the narrative also slips into Emily’s first-person perspective; although this is sometimes done abruptly, it’s a welcome digression from the omniscient third-person voice. Highly recommended.