Ruler of the Night by David Morrell (Historical Mystery Novel, 2016).
Not long ago, I reviewed a Christmas-themed book from a few years ago by Morrell. Now I’m back with one from only months ago. Ruler of the Night is the third in a trilogy of exciting mystery novels set in Victorian England (1855, to be exact) and features the fictionalized, crime-solving adventures of notorious author Thomas (Confessions of an Opium-Eater) De Quencey and his dedicated daughter Emily. While the crimes in the series are fictional, Thomas truly was famed for his interest in and writings about what he called “the fine art of murder.” In fact, this book’s title is taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who referred to his fellow writer as “Ruler of the Night.”
Other prominent real-life people (from Queen Victoria on down) appear alongside various fictional characters, as the De Quinceys and two Scotland Yard detectives (both in love with Emily) unravel the first-ever murder committed aboard an English train, a series of seeming terrorist attacks on rail lines that follow, strange doings involving a faddish health clinic and the murder of a English Lord who’s been in a semi-coma since a riding accident.
How are all of these things connected, if in fact they are? And how is De Quincey’s long-lost childhood friend (now a super-rich stock market investor’s wife) involved?
Oh, there’s also the little matter of England still being at war with Russia (the Crimean War). We get more than a fleeting glimpse of the plight faced by neglected veterans of that bloody conflict. And it so happens that Russia’s Czar has suddenly died, perhaps by other than natural causes.
Yes, there’s a lot of stuff going on here–and Morrell does a masterful job tying it all together and presenting it in exciting but comprehensible (and convincing) period detail. There’s some quite gruesome images of violent death here and brutal class inequality here (disquieting to modern sensibilities, yet fully appropriate to the time and place). The impairments Thomas faces due to his years of opium addiction also complicate matters.
To learn how Thomas and his daughter got involved with the detectives (and solved earlier fictional crimes), you’d have to read the first two books in the trilogy (Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead). I hope to locate copies for my reading pleasure myself, but be assured that this concluding book is complete unto itself.
Morrell–a multiple award-winning author of thrillers, very often with spy underpinnings, and a deservedly best-selling writer–has triumphed yet again with this outstanding novel.
Very highly recommended for fans of history, historical fiction, action adventure, social comment and mysteries!