Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Inspector of the Dead

 There's no such thing as forgetting. The inscriptions on our memories remain forever, just as the stars seem to withdraw during daylight but emerge when the darkness returns. Thomas De Quincey in Inspector of the Dead (2015) by David Morrell

It is the time of the Crimean War and things are not going well for England. The British government collapses due to the incompetence of its leaders and Queen Victoria is trying to hold things together. Meanwhile, a ruthless killer begins striking at people in power--men who represent the justice system are killed and displayed to produce the most chilling effect on the populace of London. Entire households are slaughtered. And notes are left indicating that the killer means to work his way up to Queen Victoria herself. Enter Thomas De Quincey and his friends Detectives Ryan and Becker of Scotland Yard. De Quincey sees, through an opium haze, a pattern even deeper than political unrest...a pattern of revenge and hate that must be stopped before what's left of the government is brought to its knees. 

The first death is discovered at church. Most of London's elite are at St. James Church for morning services...but also because one of the heroes of the Crimea (one of the few good stories to come from that poorly managed war), Colonel Trask is home on leave and will be in attendance. There is an air of rejoicing...until blood begins seeping out of the closed pew belonging to Lady Cosgrove and she is found stabbed to death. A stabbing that apparently took place during the beginnings of the service. When Detective Becker is sent to inform Lady Cosgrove's household of the tragedy, he finds more death--all the servants and Lord Cosgrove have been attacked. And Lord Cosgrove is posed holding a law book with a paper with "Edward Oxford" on it. Oxford had attempted to kill Queen Victoria some years ago. The next victims are left in a manner that references the law and injustice and with the names of others who have tried to kill the Queen. De Quincey believes they must look for a man who is seeking revenge for some mistreatment of himself or his family at the hands of the justice system and the government. But how many will have to die before the investigators can gather enough clues to catch the killer?

It's been a while since I read a Morrell book--and that was Murder as a Fine Art, the first of his Thomas De Quincey novels. As I said then, I'm not usually one for gruesome serial killings, but when I do read them I like the stories to be far removed from the present day. 1855 England does very well for that. Morrell does a terrific job bringing the brilliant, but troubled Quincey to life and uses descriptions and details to make early Victorian England very real as well. He gives our killer a complicated background and while I don't condone the killings, I certainly understand the circumstances that produced the killer. A very good book all around and even though I had a suspicion about who was behind it all, the ending still managed to surprise me. A little over ★★★★

First line: Except for excursions to a theater or gentleman's club, most respectable inhabitants of the largest city on earth took care to be at home before the sun finished setting--which on this cold Saturday evening, the third of February, occurred at six minutes to five.

Last line: I left the tent, peered up at the stars, and prayed for him.

Deaths = 15 (three stabbed; seven strangled/smothered/hanged; one drowned; one hit on head; two poisoned; one natural)

1 comment:

Marg said...

This sounds interesing! My eye definitely caught on the word Crimean!

Thanks for sharing this review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge