Railroaded in Victorian England.
Infamous opium eater (and real-life historical figure) Thomas De Quincey returns—along with his independent-minded, trouser-wearing daughter, Emily, and stalwart companions Ryan and Becker of Scotland Yard—to solve the first murder to occur on an English train. As in Morrell’s (Inspector of the Dead, 2015, etc.) previous De Quincey adventures, the Victorian era provides the narrative’s setting and sensibility: the invention of rail travel, in De Quincey’s mind, has had a chilling, dehumanizing effect on society, isolating and disconnecting passengers from the natural world in the interest of efficiency and profit. The homicide in question is indeed inhumanly grisly, and Morrell’s deft hand with thriller plotting provides copious chills and procedural satisfaction, but it is his mastery of character, shrewd exploitation of Victorian details and attitudes, and tonal sophistication (a wry humor leavens the gruesome violence and psychological complexity of Morrell’s conflicted heroes) that seduce and delight. The era-appropriate “hydropathy” health craze makes for a novel and intriguing nexus for the scandalous secrets and desperate scheming of the story’s antagonists, and, in an elegant twist, the intricate strands of the whole (delightfully) sordid business weave together in a way that directly and devastatingly involves De Quincy and addresses the true-life tragic mystery that drove the actual De Quincey to opium addiction in the first place. It’s a cracking yarn, irresistible as an emergency bottle of laudanum secreted in a shabby coat pocket.
Richly detailed and engrossing; Morrell animates the Victorian era and delivers genre thrills with rare style and panache.