Under the Dragon's Tail: Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings

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Under the Dragon's Tail: Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings

Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: The body of an abortionist is found lying on the floor in her squalid home in Victorian Toronto. But when another corpse is discovered a few days later, Murdoch has to work out if he is hunting one murderer or two.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Titan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857689887

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Murdoch is a lonely man, still grieving for the fiancée who died over a year before. He busies himself, when he is not working, with training for the police sports' day, learning to dance, and trying to overcome his attraction to the charming lady who lodges in the next-door room. She is a charming young widow with a young son, but since she is not Catholic, he knows, sadly, that he can never find married bliss with her.

The strength of Maureen Jennings' books about a detective in turn-of-the-century Toronto has more to do with her vivid depiction of a wide range of characters than about the mystery which is the excuse for presenting them to us. She provides the reader with a complex and intriguing picture of their world, without making her research feel in any way laboured or unnecessary.

It is a world full of prejudice, against women, the disabled, Catholics and the poor among others, and Murdoch, our detective hero, has to struggle to reach the truth in the face of all manner of assumptions from those around him, even his fellow officers. It is also a world in the making, torn between its traditional loyalty to Queen Victoria, and its own emerging nationhood and identity.

Into this maelstrom Ms Jennings introduces a mystery which crosses the usual class barriers, by making the first murder victim a midwife and occasional abortionist. At a time when women had little or no control over their bodies, an unwanted pregnancy was a disaster, be the woman poor or rich, and for these unfortunates the discreet services of someone like Dolly Merishaw were the only recourse. After a dreadful incident which means she has to leave her home town and her business Dolly starts asking former clients for money, and someone takes violent action to remove her as a threat. During the course of the story we meet several of her clients, including a bar singer who sells herself to the rich clients who come to hear her perform in order to feed and lodge herself and her sister, and a rich woman whose brief liaison happened when her husband was away, meaning she could not pass the baby off as his. It will require extremely delicate handling on Murdoch's part to discover the murderer without destroying the lives of several other women in the process.

From what Maureen Jennings says about the people she shows in this book, there is very little to choose between the social classes in terms of humanity and honesty. In fact, the only people she portrays with real affection are Murdoch himself and Mr and Mrs Kitchen, the couple he lodges with. At times it seems as if the only real warmth the detective has in his life is when he sits with them at night, talking over his cases. And even here there is sorrow: Mr Kitchen, the husband, is dying slowly, coughing blood and frequently racked with fever.

Although this book and the previous one are not identical in every detail with the highly popular TV series, they will provide just as much pleasure to readers who enjoy their mysteries laced with a generous helping of historical context.

This book can easily be read as a stand-alone, but it is well worth seeking out the first volume in the series, Except the Dying.

Buy Under the Dragon's Tail: Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Under the Dragon's Tail: Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Under the Dragon's Tail: Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Under the Dragon's Tail: Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings at Amazon.com.


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