Thursday, April 16, 2015

Interview with David Morrell, author of Inspector of the Dead

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author David Morrell to Flashlight Commentary to discuss Inspector of the Dead.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary David. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Inspector of the Dead.
Inspector of the Dead is a mystery/thriller set in 1855 London.  Its premise (some of it based on actual events) is that during the worst of the Crimean War, when the British Empire teetered, someone plans to assassinate Queen Victoria and make certain that the Empire does indeed fall. It’s filled with little-known “weird” details about the Victorian era.

Where did this story begin and what drew you to Thomas De Quincey?
Thomas De Quincey is one of the most fascinating literary personalities of the 1800s. When most people used the painkiller laudanum (a mixture of alcohol and opium) the way we use aspirin, he was the first to admit being a slave to it—in his sensational memoir, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.  Opium caused him to suffer epic nightmares in which all of history marched before him and the ghosts of loved ones visited him. Wondering where dreams came from, he theorized that the human mind was filled with “chasms and abysses, layer upon layer, in which there were secret chambers where alien natures could hide undetected.” This sounds like Freud, but De Quincey proposed this theory in 1821, almost 80 years before Freud. De Quincey also invented the modern true-crime genre in his third installment of “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” where he meticulously recreated the first media-sensation mass murders in English history, the Ratcliffe Highway killings of 1811.  He influenced Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I couldn’t resist putting him at the start of the detective tradition, showing how he would use his psychoanalytic theories to solve murders at a time when Scotland Yard was just starting to figure out crime-scene investigation.

How did you approach characterizing the English essayist? What kind of man is he in your stories?
De Quincey wrote thousands of pages. I read and re-read those pages as well as biographies about him until I felt that I was channeling him. One of my editors said that I’d become a ventriloquist for him. He was so witty and brilliant that his friends threatened to keep him a prisoner in box (he was very short) and bring him out, like a child’s toy, when conversation dwindled at parties. In my two novels about him (the other is Murder as a Fine Art), I incorporate his phrases into his dialogue to show how brilliant he was.

And his daughter Emily? How would you describe her?
De Quincey had three daughters. By 1855, two of them were married or else engaged, leaving only Emily (21years old) to take care of her father. She’s the lens through which we see him. Some readers might be ambivalent about his opium use, but I figured that if readers liked Emily (she’s laugh-out-loud entertaining), then readers would admire her father just as she herself does.  One measure of her smile-producing independence is that while other women wear wide hoop dresses weighing 37 pounds, she thinks this is nonsense and prefers the recently invented “bloomer skirt,” which was basically trousers under a skirt. People of pretension mock her, but as she says, “I can walk faster than them.”

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are central to the story. How did you approach writing the famed royals?
The same as with De Quincey, I immersed myself in books about them.  Everyone knows that the Victorian age is characterized by its reserve and its prudery. But do they know why? It’s because Victoria’s immediate royal predecessors were notorious for their immorality. In contrast, Victoria wanted to set a solemn, proper tone, which spread through the era. She didn’t even allow brightly colored men’s clothing in her presence, unlike the garish fashions in previous courts. I looked for those kinds of details that would characterize her in ways that most readers didn’t know about.  My favorite example is that her mother trained her to be regal by putting a sprig of holly under her collar. Holly has sharp points, and the only way Victoria could avoid being “stabbed” by them was by standing perfectly straight. She walked that way when she was queen, while her husband Albert tended to slouch. The contrast makes them vivid.

What sort of research went into Inspector of the Dead? What sources did you find most valuable?
Literally, for two years, the only books I read were related to De Quincey and 1850s London. I often felt that I was time traveling and was actually on those harrowing fogbound streets. If a scene involved a glass of beer or pews in a church, I had to stop and remind myself that many things had changed in a century and a half. Beer was often watered by a tavern owner and then “boosted” by an intoxicating drug that also produced hunger. Pews weren’t the bench-like arrangement that we’re used to. Instead they were boxes in which there might be a table and carpet and pillows and a charcoal heater.  The pews were rented, with locked doors that only the renters could open. Some even had curtains, and Inspector of the Dead begins with a murder in one of these during a Sunday church service.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
My favorite season involves a Buckingham Palace dinner to which De Quincey and Emily are invited. They’re dressed so poorly that the other guests wonder why on earth they were invited. But Prince Albert likes Emily and arranges for her to sit next to him. At one point, she uses some drops of a chemical to find out if the items on the menu have been adulterated with lead, which was a common problem with Victorian food. She uses another chemical that shows the presence of arsenic in the green dye of the dresses that the women wear. The scene was a joy to write.  

It's interesting that you say that as it was one of my favorite scenes in the book. 

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it? 
De Quincey liked to analyze dramatic murders and believed that “in the murderer worthy to be called an artist, there rages some great storm of passion—jealousy, ambition, vengeance, hatred—which creates a hell within him.”  In Inspector of the Dead, I wanted to make that storm of passion so sympathetic that readers would feel sorry for the murderer and perhaps even want to shed a tear for him.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time on?
The first war correspondent was an Irishman named William Russell whom the London Times sent to the Crimean War to expose the incompetence of English officers. He’s so interesting that I wish I had more scenes for him. But after he fulfilled his function in the novel, he would have been extraneous.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Inspector of the Dead and if so, what did you alter? 
In 1854-55 London, De Quincey was living in Scotland, but for Inspector of the Dead and Murder as a Fine Art, I needed him to be in London. Otherwise I didn’t meddle with historical facts and molded the fiction to fit them. To give a few examples, there’s a February snowstorm in Inspector of the Dead, and in reality, there was indeed such a storm.  Similarly, in the first week of February of 1855, the British government indeed collapsed because of the incompetent handling of the Crimean War. In the novel, when Queen Victoria asks one of the characters (real-life Lord Palmerston who was the most influential politician in England at the time) to become prime minister, she does so on the exact day that she asked him back in 1855. Part of my enjoyment was to adhere strictly to De Quincey’s life (except for putting him in London in 1854-55). I asked his two biographers, Robert Morrison and Grevel Lindop, to fact-check my manuscripts, and Grevel was kind enough to give Inspector of the Dead this quotation on the jacket: “I was fascinated by the seamless blending of elements from Thomas De Quincey’s life and work.”

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
Definitely De Quincey. Everyone admired him for his spellbinding conversations. Even Ralph Waldo Emerson sought him out when Emerson visited Britain.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of Inspector of the Dead, who would you hire?
Anthony Hopkins would be ideal to play De Quincey. 

I agree with that casting call one hundred percent. 

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works?
I’m so interested in De Quincey and Emily that I’m working on a third novel about them. There are a lot more “weird” details about the Victorian era that I’m eager to describe.

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“Riveting! I literally thought I was in 1855 London. With this mesmerizing series, David Morrell doesn’t just delve into the world of Victorian England—he delves into the heart of evil, pitting one man’s opium-skewed brilliance against a society where appearances are everything, and the most vicious killers lurk closer than anyone thinks.” —Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author of Crash & Burn and The Perfect Husband

“Even better than Murder as a Fine Art. A truly atmospheric and dynamic thriller. I was fascinated by how Morrell seamlessly blended elements from Thomas De Quincey’s life and work. The solution is a complete surprise.” —Grevel Lindop, The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas De Quincey

“The scope is remarkable. Florence Nightingale, the Crimean War, regicide, the railways, opium, the violence and despair of the London rookeries, medical and scientific innovations, arsenic in the food and clothing—all this makes the Victorian world vivid. The way Morrell depicts Thomas De Quincey places him in front of us, living and breathing. But his daughter Emily is in many ways the real star of the book.” —Robert Morrison, The English Opium-Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey

“I absolutely raced through it and couldn’t bear to put it down. I particularly liked how the very horrible crimes are contrasted with the developing, fascinating relationship between Thomas De Quincey and his daughter, Emily, who come across as extremely real. It was altogether a pleasure.” —Judith Flanders, The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

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David Morrell is an Edgar, Nero, Anthony, and Macavity nominee as well as a recipient of the prestigious career-achievement Thriller Master away from the International Thriller Writers. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include the classic espionage novel. The Brotherhood of the Rose, the basis for the only television mini-series to be broadcast after a Super Bowl. A former literature professor at the University of Iowa, Morrell has a PhD from Pennsylvania State University. His latest novel is INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, a sequel to his highly acclaimed Victorian mystery/thriller, Murder as a Fine Art, which Publishers Weekly called ”one of the top ten mystery/thrillers of 2013.”

Website ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter

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Format: Print, Audio & eBook
Publication Date: March 24, 2015
Released by: Mulholland Books
ISBN-13: 978-0316323932
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Check Out All the Stops on David Morrell's Inspector of the Dead Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, March 24
Review at Unabridged Chick
Excerpt at Boom Baby Reviews
Wednesday, March 25
Review at Back Porchervations
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Thursday, March 26
Review at JulzReads
Friday, March 27
Interview at JulzReads
Monday, March 30
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Spotlight at Tales of a Book Addict
Tuesday, March 31
Interview & Excerpt at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, April 1
Spotlight at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Guest Post at Mina’s Bookshelf
Thursday, April 2
Review at Build a Bookshelf
Review & Giveaway at Mina’s Bookshelf
Friday, April 3
Review at Peppermint, Ph.D.
Monday, April 6
Review & Giveaway at To Read, or Not to Read
Excerpt & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, April 7
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Wednesday, April 8
Interview at Back Porchervations
Spotlight & Giveaway at Words and Peace
Thursday, April 9
Review & Giveaway at 100 Pages a Day – Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Friday, April 10
Review at Layered Pages
Review, Excerpt & Giveaway at Drey’s Library
Saturday, April 11
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Monday, April 13
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, April 14
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, April 15
Review & Excerpt at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Thursday, April 16
Review at Editing Pen
Review at Luxury Reading
Review at The Maiden’s Court
Friday, April 17
Guest Post & Giveaway at Editing Pen
Monday, April 20
Review & Giveaway at A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, April 21
Review at A Book Geek
Review at Books and Benches
Wednesday, April 22
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection
Thursday, April 23
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Friday, April 24
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict

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