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The Sirens of Suspense






David Morrell is the critically acclaimed author of First Blood, the novel in which Rambo was created. He holds a Ph. D. in American literature from Penn State and was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include the classic spy trilogy The Brotherhood of the Rose (the basis for the only television mini-series to premier after a Super Bowl), The Fraternity of the Stone, and The League of Night and Fog. An Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity nominee, Morrell is the recipient of three Bram Stoker awards from the Horror Writers Association as well as the prestigious lifetime Thriller Master Award from the International Thriller Writers’ organization. His writing book, The Successful Novelist, discusses what he has learned in his four decades as an author. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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David Morrell will be appearing at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ on Tuesday, May 7th at 7:00PM. If you're unable to make it in person, the event will be livestreamed, click HERE before (or anytime after) the event to see the video. Or, order a signed copy HERE.



In 1811, there was a series of real-life mass killings that terrorized London and all of England the way Jack the Ripper spread terror at the opposite end of the century. They were called the Ratcliffe Highway murders. Improved roads and the recent invention of the mail-coach system allowed news about those murders to spread throughout England within a then-amazing two days.

An infamous essayist, Thomas De Quincey (known as the Opium-Eater because he wrote the first book about drug addiction, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater), became obsessed with those mass murders and immortalized them in his blood soaked essay, “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” In it, he invented the true-crime genre.

item6Quite a guy. Watching a film that takes place in the 1850s, I noticed a casual reference to the way De Quincey anticipated Freud. Curiosity made me seek out his work, which I had sampled in a long-ago college literature course, in which the professor dismissed De Quincey as a footnote.

Well, I soon discovered that the professor was wrong. De Quincey deserved to be more than a footnote. His vast influence was rivaled only by his brilliance. The prototype for the first private detective, he became my guide to 1854 London, the year his essay about the Ratcliffe Highway killings was published.

What if someone used that essay as a blueprint for an identical series of killings? I wondered. What if De Quincey, the Opium-Eater, was the logical suspect for the crimes? What if those killings were connected both to him and to the original murders? Finally, what if this sixty-nine-year old man became furious at this abuse of his writing and, with the help of his 21-year-old daughter, set out to redeem himself?

My research into 1854 London lasted 2 years. During that time, the only books I read were related to that year. I soon literally felt that I was there. I knew what kind of money was in people’s pockets (gold, silver, and copper coins—paper money was distrusted), how many horses there were in 1854 London (50,000), how many beggars (the same as the horses, 50,000)., and how much an upper-class woman’s dress weighed (37 pounds because of ten yards of satin that covered a whale’s-teeth hoop).

I read and re-read De Quincey’s thousands of pages until I felt I had reincarnated him. One of the astonishing things I learned about him was that while a tablespoon of laudanum (a mixture of opium and alcohol) might kill someone not accustomed to it, De Quincey was capable of drinking sixteen ounces of it a day. His opium nightmares convinced him that there were chambers within everyone’s mind, where an alien creature could exist. This Freud-like idea is one of the main plot points in my novel.

My purpose in mentioning all this is to note how much I enjoyed journeying back to 1854 London. John Barth once said that reality is a nice place to visit but we wouldn’t want to live there very long. These days, I change that idea and say, “The present world is a nice place to write about, but maybe there are more interesting alternatives.” Going back to 1854 London, writing a historical thriller about that era’s strange customs and vocabulary (“dippers” and “dollymops”) felt like going to Mars. I found it exciting and fascinating to retreat from the troubles of the modern world.





WHAT TIME PERIOD WOULD YOU LIKE TO VISIT? Tell us or ask David a question by commenting below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of MURDER AS A FINE ART!


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