(This is one of four in a package of stories about veteran Santa Fe author David Morrell.)

By David Steinberg

In fiction, Scotland Yard has given readers its share of detectives. Add David Morrell’s atmospheric, richly described historical mysteries – the 2013 “Murder as a Fine Art” and the newly published “Inspector of the Dead” – to that list.

What sets Morrell’s novels apart is that two cops in Victorian London, Ryan and Becker, are aided by the lead character, an opium-drinking, crime-solving civilian. He drinks laudanum, a liquid version of opium.

His name is Thomas De Quincey, the same name as the historical figure, known for his tell-all memoir of drug use that embarrassed Victorian England. Opium was legal in the country for much of the 19th century but it wasn’t a topic of public discussion.

In “Inspector of the Dead,” Ryan and Becker search for evidence, while De Quincey probes below the surface, seeking for clues into the psyche of the person who is murdering London’s aristocrats and their help. The killer’s ultimate objective may be Queen Victoria herself.

To research background on De Quincey, Morrell spent several years in England’s Lake District where De Quincey had lived as a young man. Morrell consulted with Grevel Lindop, a De Quincey scholar, about the events that triggered De Quincey to tip from opium user to addict, Morrell said.

In the afterword to “Inspector of the Dead,” Morrell said De Quincey endured “epic nightmares that seemed to last a hundred years every night … Every hurt and loss of his life surfaced to haunt him, and because of these nightmares, De Quincey discovered a bottomless inner world…”

De Quincey digs into this subconscious world, Morrell pointed out, seven decades before Sigmund Freud’s landmark psychoanalysis.

What’s more, Morrell said in an interview, De Quincey “inspired Edgar Allen Poe, who invented the detective story. Arthur Conan Doyle stole the idea of an eccentric detective and sidekick from Poe’s writing. Doyle in one Sherlock Holmes short story refers to De Quincey.”

The mystery brings readers close on the heels of the hunters and the hunted, and pulls readers inside the mansions and churches and onto the fog-thick streets of 1855 London.

It also gives readers a peek into the background of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Lord Palmerston, who served as prime minister and foreign secretary, and the effect of the Crimean War on the country.

“Inspector of the Dead” is the second of a planned trilogy. The first, “Murder as a Fine Art,” was a New York Times bestseller and received the Nero Wolfe Award for the Best Mystery of 2013.

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