Sunday, May 5, 2013

E is for Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings


From the Publisher's Weekly review of the book:
In this exhilarating first novel, Jennings creates more than a period mystery: she brings alive 1895 Toronto, struggling economically, teeming with immigrants and thick with paupers. William Murdoch is the police department's sole detective, a new rank. Investigating the murder of Therese Laporte, a young servant, leads the intelligent, observant Murdoch through a stratified society, from the gloomy rooms of prostitutes Alice Black and Ettie Weston to the elegant home of the Rhodes family, Therese's employers, and the exclusive Yeoman Club.
Based on what I have read, the picture of Toronto in 1895 is well done in this book.  But what I liked most about this book is the way the story is told, and the development of characters. William Murdoch is an Acting Detective, ambitious and intelligent. He wants to move up in rank, and he hopes this case will bring him some attention. The author takes us through the investigation slowly, introducing us to  the individuals involved. She describes the prejudices of the time and the hardships that the poorer inhabitants of Toronto lived with.

There was much more depth of character and richness of plot than I expected in a first novel.

Inspector Brackenreid, Murdoch's superior, is the son of an Irish immigrant and has known hardship in his youth.
Before his demons overtook him, he had been a shrewd, hard-working man with a certain meticulousness about detail that served him well. Now, those qualities were more and more obscured.

As inspector, Brackenreid wore a fine wool jacket with brocade epaulettes and frogs down the front. Murdoch could see stains on the brocade and even across the table he could smell the beery stink of the man's breath.
Donalda Rhodes is the wealthy mistress of the household where the dead girl worked. Initially it appears that Therese has left voluntarily. Donalda is quite fond of the girl and is unhappy that she has left without a word.
Edith went into the adjacent dressing room. Donalda was glad to be out of her sight. She could feel tears stinging at the back of her eyes. Inappropriate tears, she knew, but the anguish of her dream was still close and she was hurt by Theresa's callous behavior. In spite of the inequality between them she thought there had been real affection. She was obviously wrong.
Throughout the book we gradually learn more of the heartaches that Donalda has suffered, even though she lives a comfortable life as the wife of a doctor.

I initially became interested in Murdoch Mysteries when I discovered that several of the books had been adapted as TV movies for Canadian television. Although both the TV movies and books show the grim and dark side of Toronto of the time period, the adaptations feature more use of science and forensics in solving the crimes. I expected this aspect to show up in this first book in the series and it did not, to any extent.

Just as an aside, I did not like the cover of this book. I don't especially like book covers that feature pictures from a movie or TV show adaptation, in general. But in this case, the characters that are shown on the cover are characters from the TV show. And the women pictured have nothing to do with the plot of this novel. I am aware that it is probably the popularity of the TV show that has allowed for the reprint editions of this series, which is a very good thing. But the pictures on the cover should have more to do with the plot, in my opinion.

I recommend this book and plan to continue reading the series.

This post is an entry for the Crime Fiction Alphabet for 2013.  Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for this letter. This year, I plan to stick to the theme of authors or books in the sub-genre of police procedurals.

This book is the ninth book I have read for the Canadian Book Challenge 6.

20 comments:

  1. Sounds intriguing, Tracy. I watched the first couple of episodes of Murdoch Mysteries recently - it's a TV series, by the way, rather than TV movies - but didn't really get on with it. It felt rather stilted and had some dreadful anachronistic in-jokes. Obviously others like it, as it's now on it's seventh series.

    I'd spotted the book series - looks like I might have to give it a try.

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    1. Puzzle Doctor, I can see I was not clear there. There were three TV movies that preceded the TV series. The TV movies starred Peter Outerbridge as Murdoch (and Colm Meaney as the inspector) and I watched all three movies and enjoyed them very much. The TV series stars Yannick Bisson and I have only see the first two or three of those.

      I enjoyed this first book and hope the others are as good.

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  2. Tracy, every third or fourth review I read these days is either a book written by a Canadian writer or set in Canada, which says a lot about fiction emerging from that part of the world. I don't like book covers with film or television pictures either. I'd a similar grouse with comic-books. I'm not familiar with the MURDOCH MYSTERIES.

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    1. Prashant, I have learned a lot about Canada from reading books set there. And the books I have read have been enjoyable too. So a win win situation.

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  3. I've head of the Murdoch Mysteries on TV without having seen them - I think my brother watches them, your post has inspired me to ask him about them. The book certainly sounds good, worth a try.Covers are an issue aren't they? - you can understand publishers (and the author) hoping for extra sales from the tie-in, but an irrelevant cover is very annoying.

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    1. Moira, although I don't pay that much attention to clothes, I think you would find some interesting descriptions of clothes in these books.

      Covers of books are something I really pay attention to. I don't use them as a determiner of whether I would read the book or not, but I will buy a book for the cover. In this case I would have rather had an e-book or a used copy. Oh well.

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  4. Tracy - Oh, I've never seen the Murdoch Mysteries and haven't yet seen them. But the novel sounds terrific and I have to say I like historical novels. Thanks for the fine review of this one.

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    1. Margot, I am sure you would like them. Jennings has started another series recently set in World War II (or thereabouts) which I plan to try also.

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  5. I own a bunch of her books! I can't wait to read them. Thanks for this great review Tracy (and the reminder).

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    1. Thank you, Keishon. I do hope you enjoy them. I plan to try the World War II series next (because I have a copy) but I am eager to get more of this series and continue the story.

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  6. I too have seen some of the TV series and it just didn't do anything for me. That could be the acting though. I will give the books a chance!

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    1. Peggy, based on reviews at your site that I have seen, I think these books would appeal to you.

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  7. I am always intrigued on turn of the century themes. :)

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  8. Scott, I used to only want to read historical fiction set around World War II, now I am branching out, trying World War I and before. All of it is very interesting.

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  9. Tracy, glad you enjoyed it, but I think I'll pass on this one.

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    1. Col, it wasn't exactly what I expected, but still very interesting to me.

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  10. I've seen the Murdoch mysteries on TV but never really got into them. Glad you enjoyed this!

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    1. Sarah, if I did not have several other TV series on DVD waiting in the wings (like my stacks of unread books), I would probably try more of the TV series. The TV movies that preceded the current TV series have different actors and are darker.

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  11. Oh no, another series that sounds right up my alley. I agree about the cover, though.

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  12. Carol, I do think this is your kind of book.

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