The Opium-Eater

A Thomas De Quincey Story


By David Morrell

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From bestselling thriller author David Morrell comes a brooding Thomas De Quincey short story about the coldest of deaths and their heartbreaking aftermath.

Thomas De Quincey — the central character of Morrell’s acclaimed Victorian mysteries, Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead — was one of the most notorious and brilliant literary personalities of the 1800s. His infamous Confessions of an English Opium-Eater made history as the first book about drug dependency. He invented the word “subconscious” and anticipated Freud’s psychoanalytic theories by more than a half century. His blood-soaked essays and stories influenced Edgar Allan Poe, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes.

But at the core of his literary success lies a terrible tragedy. In this special-edition novella, based on real-life events, Morrell shares De Quincey’s story of a horrific snowstorm in which a mother and father died and their six children were trapped in the mountains of England’s Lake District. Even more gripping is what happened after. This is the true tale of how Thomas De Quincey became the Opium-Eater, brought to life by award-winning storyteller David Morrell.

An afterword contains numerous photographs of the dramatic locations in the story.


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Thomas De Quincey—the main character of David Morrell's acclaimed Victorian mystery/thrillers, Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead—was one of the most sensational and inventive English authors of the 1800s. He anticipated Freud's psychoanalytic theories by more than half a century. In his 1854 blood-soaked postscript to "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts," he described England's first media-sensation mass murders, the Ratcliffe Highway killings, with such vivid detail that he invented the true-crime genre. He influenced Edgar Allan Poe, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes. In this special-edition novelette, based on actual events, De Quincey tells the heartbreaking tale of how he became known as the Opium-Eater. An afterword contains numerous photographs of the dramatic locations in the story.

London, 1855

The stranger stepped from the storm-ravaged street, dripping rain onto the sand-covered floor.

"I'm told that the Opium-Eater is here." Thunder rumbled as he pushed the door shut against a strong wind.

"Aye. A lot of other people heard the same," the tavern's owner replied, wiping a cloth across a counter. "He's in the back. Thanks to him, even with the foul weather, business is good tonight."

The stranger approched a crowd at the rear of the tavern. Everyone was strangely silent. Dressed in cheap, loose-fitting garments that identified them as laborers, men held glasses of ale and cocked their heads, listening to faint words through an open doorway.

"Murder as a fine art? Not this time," a voice said, its tone suggesting a man of advanced years. "There aren't any killings in this story."

From the back room, murmurs of disappointment drifted out toward the crowd.

"But there are several deaths," the voice continued.

Now the murmurs indicated anticipation.

"Father, you don't need to do this," a young woman's voice objected.

"This man asked me a question."

"Which you aren't obliged to answer."

"But on this particular night, I do feel obliged," the voice insisted. "There's no such thing as forgetting, but perhaps I can force wretched memories into submission if I confront them."

Recognizing the voices, the stranger touched two men at the edge of the crowd. "Pardon me. I need to move past you."

"Hey, the rest of us want to go in there too. Who appointed you lord and master?"

"I'm a Scotland Yard detective inspector."

"Ha. That's a good one. Tell me another."

"Better do it," a man cautioned. "His name's Ryan, and he is in fact a detective inspector. I saw him at the Old Bailey last week, testifying against my brother."

Grudgingly, the crowd parted.

Detective Inspector Ryan squeezed his way into a congested room that was thick with the odor of pipe smoke and ale. People sat at tables or else stood along the age-darkened walls, their attention focused on an elderly man seated in front of an iron-lined fireplace.

The man was Thomas De Quincey. More than forty years earlier, in 1821, he'd become notorious for writing the first book about drug addiction, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. The nickname had followed him ever since. De Quincey's troubled opium nightmares, in which all of history marched before him and the ghosts of loved ones haunted him, made him conclude that the mind was filled with chasms and sunless abysses, layer upon layer. Writing about this unsuspected subconscious world, the Opium-Eater had established a reputation as one of the most controversial and brilliant literary personalities of the era.

Because of De Quincey's notoriety, people often expected to see someone larger than life. To the contrary, he was slight, so short that his boots didn't reach the bottom of his chair. From a distance, he might have been mistaken for a youth, but when seen this close, his wrinkled face conveyed a lifetime of sadness. His melancholy blue eyes had a dry glitter, as if years of sorrow and regret had exhausted his capacity for tears.

Next to him stood an attractive young woman whose blue eyes resembled his. Her name was Emily, and Ryan's gaze shifted toward her as quickly as it had toward De Quincey—perhaps even quicker, because in the months that Ryan had known her, his impatience about the way she spoke her mind and exerted her independence had turned to respect and indeed much more than that.


On Sale
Feb 17, 2015
Page Count
144 pages
Mulholland Books

David Morrell

About the Author

Kent Anderson is a U.S. Special Forces veteran who served in Vietnam and a former police officer in Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, California. With an MFA in creative writing from the University of Montana, he has taught college-level English and written screenplays. His two other novels, Night Dogs and Green Sun, both feature Hanson. Anderson may be the only person in U.S. history to have won two NEA grants for creative writing as well as two Bronze Stars. He lives in New Mexico.

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