Just another GR refugee. Other than that, I had a stroke in 2004, and read almost anything I can get my hands on, though I have a particular weakness for history, mystery, and historical fiction.
Murder as a Fine Art, set in 1854 London, features at its center Thomas De Quincey, "The Opium-Eater," the author of the first published drug memoir in English, Memoirs of an Opium Eater, the friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and now, late in life, a mass murder suspect.
The other characters focused on are his daughter, Emily (a proponent of the scandalous bloomers), and two policemen, Detective Ryan and Constable Becker, who realize very early in their investigation that Thomas De Quincey could not have done it (the murderer was tall and muscular; De Quincey is frail and old). So, despite interference from Lord Palmerston (Home Secretary, and thus in charge of the police), who directs them to arrest De Quincey anyway, "to make the people think they're safe," they set out to find the real mass murderer.
This is a historical thriller, but certainly not a cosy (we start with a murderer's eye view of the death of five people, including a baby in its cradle, details not spared).
What I liked - most historical details are accurate. No one is TSTL (Too Silly To Live). The police aren't portrayed as idiots. The portrait of De Quincey is nuanced and interesting.
However, Morrell breaks the immersion of the the act of reading the novel, by starting every chapter with anywhere from a paragraph to several pages of straight non-fiction writing (on topics such as the East India Docks and how they worked), and then goes directly back into the novel without warning, sometimes in the same paragraph as the non-fiction. This is a rather herky-jerky experience for a reader. The best I can say of it is that I suppose this information would otherwise been included as numerous "As you know, Bob" moments, which I think would have been worse.
Lord Palmerston is also painted as running a proto-MI6, on the side of his daytime job as Home Secretary. This is flatly ridiculous. As is the suggestion that he had personally fomented the Revolutions of 1848 throughout the continent, "to keep the British Empire strong."
Finally, at the end of the novel I detected not only an attempt at a setup for sequels (probably to be expected these days), but also a nascent love triangle. For the love of Pete, cut it out with the love triangles! I know of no reader (or TV viewer, for that matter) who actually likes them.
On checking, there is indeed a sequel, published earlier this year. Wherein Thomas De Quincey and his merry men prevent the murder of Queen Victoria. I doubt I'll be reading it.