Two excellent murder mysteries set in 19th century London begin our week.
Veteran action/thriller writer David Morrell mixes fact and fiction in his latest, Murder as a Fine Art. It has been so successful that he plans to write at least one more book featuring Thomas De Quincey and his daughter Emily. Morrell was awarded the International Thriller Writers’ highest honor in 2009, the title of ThrillerMaster. This is the first of his novels reviewed on AB4T — the young protagonist and clever use of historical events make it a good bet for teens.
What Darkness Brings takes us earlier in time to 1812. This is the 8th entry in C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series. Harris describes Sebastian as “Mr. Darcy with a James Bond edge” and “a brilliant young nobleman shattered by his experiences in the Napoleonic Wars.” If that wasn’t enough, this is a book mired in secrets surrounding Sebastian’s first love. Harris is known for her use of authentic historical detail, and young readers may be tempted to head back to the first in the series after dipping into this one.
Adult/High School–The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, a grisly crime in which seven people were brutally slaughtered, shocked and frightened Victorian era London. These murders serve as the jumping off point for this mystery, set 43 years after the original crime. It is now 1854 and someone has reenacted this gruesome slaying, framing Thomas De Quincey as the killer. Though best known for his book chronicling his drug addiction, De Quincey also wrote three essays comparing murder to fine art, in which he classified a great murderer as one who puts as much consideration into staging his crime as any fine artist does into his painting, using the Ratcliffe Highway murders as a prime example. De Quincey is still addicted to laudanum and is lovingly tended to by his clever 21-year-old daughter, Emily. He gains the trust of the inspectors assigned to the case and works with them through his drug haze, to uncover the real culprit. Morrell draws the world of 1850s London quite vividly, blending the Ratcliffe Highway Murders and De Quincey’s writings, all real, with an imagined copy-cat killing; teen fans of both historical fiction and crime novels will find much to like here. The brilliant rendering of Victorian manners (which Emily blithely ignores) add color to this mystery, and will no doubt amuse teens reading this with current-day mores in mind.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA
Adult/High School–Sebastian St. Cyr, a private investigator in 19th-century London, is caught between protecting the conflicting interests of his first love, Kat, and his current wife, Hero, while working his current case. Benjamin Eisler was a blackmailer and money lender who forced his clients to do unthinkable things to repay their debts. No one is sorry to see him killed, but most are reluctant to talk for fear their secrets will come out. The pool of suspects grows even larger when Sebastian discovers that a blue diamond stolen from French royals 20 years prior had surfaced in Eisler’s possession, only to disappear again the night of his murder. Kat’s husband has been arrested with little evidence. Meanwhile Hero is writing an article and interviewing the destitute children sweeping muck off the streets for coin, and a deranged ex-soldier is following her and Sebastian for reasons unknown. What keeps readers’ interest in this story is that all the players have something to hide, and Sebastian meticulously works through an intertwined cast of characters to determine the truth. Many of the subjects have a personal connection to Sebastian, which increases the tension. The appeal for teen historical fiction fans lies in the nuanced depiction of societal class limitations during this time. Patient mystery lovers will find satisfaction in the slow reveal of the killer. Readers who want the back story to Sebastian, Kat, and Hero would do well to start with the first in this series, What Angels Fear (NAL, 2005).–Priscille Dando, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA