Except the Dying: Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings
|Except the Dying: Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings|
|Category: Crime (Historical)|
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor|
|Summary: Toronto, 1895. The body of a young maidservant is found, naked and frozen in the snow. William Murdoch is determined to find her killer despite pressure from influential people for a speedy resolution to the case.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: February 2012|
|Publisher: Titan Books|
|External links: [www.maureenjennings.com Author's website]|
Victorian detective novels set in Britain are fairly common, and some of the most well-known and popular crime series fall into this category. The Murdoch stories, however, come from a different angle, being placed (for the most part) in Canada, with its snowy wastes, its logging camps and pioneering spirit. Loyalty to the Queen is as ardent here as back home in 'the old country', but there is a rawness and a sense of space to these novels which is due in large part to their setting.
The story begins with a scene which is would horrify people now just as much as it did in that strait-laced turn-of-the-century society. The body of a young woman lies in a quiet lane, nestled into the snow, but the thieves who steal her clothes and possessions are so careless of her dignity that they actually manage to snap her arm as they remove her blouse. They do, to be fair, hesitate for a moment before taking her underwear, but in the end decide that such good quality cloth should not be wasted on someone who doesn't need it any more. In counterpoint to this scene we see the victim a couple of short hours before, dressing in haste and fleeing the house where she has met cruelty and abuse.
Murdoch, the acting detective assigned to the case, is an intriguing character. Upright and determinedly principled, he is a clear outsider in the country and in the police station because he is a Catholic, something he makes no secret of. He is aware, in consequence, that he will have to try twice as hard as other people to gain promotion. Indeed, at the beginning of this story the thought does cross his mind that solving the case quickly would go a long way towards helping him in this regard. However, as soon as he is immersed in the details of the maid's murder, and the effect it has on an upper class family, he forgets everything except his compassionate desire to find justice for the poor victim. There are several other and very telling details which give further fascinating insights into his private life: he still mourns his dead fiancée, but loneliness has prompted him to take dancing lessons in the hope of meeting other young ladies, and he willingly spends time with his landlord, who is housebound and seriously ill, sharing details of his cases to keep the man's mind active.
A wide range of people figure in this story, including a stable boy who will not speak but who is well-educated and literate, and a pair of highly colourful 'ladies of the night'. Street urchins, a man with two wives, thieving servants and spoiled, over-indulged sons all feature as Murdoch threads his way through Toronto society in his hunt for the killer.
This review is about the book, not the extremely popular television series which has sprung from Maureen Jennings' characters, but a brief word comparing the two is in order here. Most people will know Murdoch from the television before they encounter the books, and this is reinforced by the cover of the book, which shows photos of the actors. It is a little misleading however: the ebullient and enthusiastic Crabtree is a more sober individual with family responsibilities in the book, and Murdoch's TV love interest, Dr Julia Ogden, does not appear at all. This in no way detracts from the story, however (and the cover was probably a marketing decision rather than something the author wanted), so if you want a good, cosy read with interesting characters, an admirable hero and an unusual setting, then you will certainly enjoy this book. And the good news is that several more of the books are being re-released in fairly quick succession, so you will not have to wait too long for the next one!
One of the best-known writers of detective fiction set in Victorian times is Anne Perry. Try Acceptable Loss or Betrayal at Lissom Grove which will provide a good introduction to Detectives Monk and Pitt.
You can read more book reviews or buy Except the Dying: Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Except the Dying: Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings at Amazon.com.
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