Sunday, February 23, 2014

Under the Dragon's Tail: Maureen Jennings

This is the second book in the Murdoch Mysteries series, published by Maureen Jennings in 1998, and featuring William Murdoch, an Acting Detective in Toronto in the late 1800's.  I enjoyed the first book in the series, Except the Dying (1997), and I liked this one even more.

Maureen Jennings does a wonderful job of portraying Victorian-era Toronto. As described in this article, she did extensive research into the time period. But in addition to the convincing picture of the times, we also get well-developed and interesting characters. Without dwelling on Murdoch's past, the author conveys how his childhood has affected him, and his continuing grief for his fiancee who died of typhoid, at the same time he yearns for a relationship with a woman. Maybe he is a tad too perfect, but I can live with that. Constable George Crabtree, and several of the suspects at varying levels of society are also well-defined; their portrayals contribute to the overall portrait of the city, its poverty and its inhabitants.

Getting to the mystery, the detective and his constable are investigating the death of a former midwife, living with her grown daughter and two foster children. The suspects come from a well-to-do family and from the lower echelons of society. To the reader, it is somewhat obvious who the culprit is likely to be, yet the author kept me guessing. And the story had a very good pace, never lagging.

In 2004, three made-for-TV movies were produced and televised, based on the first three books in the series. Later, in 2008, a television series (with new actors in the parts) began and has continued for seven seasons.  I watched the TV movies and a few episodes of the 2008 series before I read the books. As I read the first two books in this series, my only disappointment has been that the forensics that are emphasized in the TV movie adaptations were not featured more in the books (those that I have read so far). Dr. Julia Ogden, who is featured in both the TV movies and the later TV series, only shows up briefly in this second book. Nevertheless, I found this book to be very enjoyable on its own merits.

Under the Dragon's Tail (2004), Shaftesbury Films Inc., Toronto, Ontario
Cast: Peter Outerbridge, Flora Montgomery, Matthew MacFadzean

The three made-for-TV movies were televised in a slightly different order than the first three books. Under the Dragon's Tail is the second book in the series; the adaptation of this story was the third movie televised. Dr. Julia Odgen features heavily in the first two movies, but is only mentioned in the this adaptation.

The TV movie based on this book is a fine adaptation, but it does change the story quite a bit. The basic outline of the story is retained, and the picture of Toronto in the 1890's is well done. There is, however, much more emphasis on forensics, such as the use of fingerprints, or finger marks as they are called in the movie. This was an emerging science at the time, and an interesting topic to introduce into the story. My take on adaptations of books or series is that sometimes you end up with something entirely different, but that can be fine as long as the adaptation works well on its own. I think this one does. I don't want to go into more detail about the differences in the movie, so that I don't spoil it for anyone who ends up watching the movie (or reading the book).

This book and movie review is submitted for Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey and for the 7th annual Canadian Book Challenge sponsored by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

15 comments:

  1. TracyK: I regret I have not read this Canadian writer. I have one of her books on my shelves. Maybe this year.

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    1. Bill, I am sure you will enjoy the book when you get to it. I want to continue the series and try her most recent series also.

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  2. Tracy, I haven't read a lot of crime fiction but I think present-day authors seem to be bringing their sleuths to readers with more emotional baggage than before. Just a theory and I could be wrong.

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    1. Prashant, I think you are right about the emotional baggage. Even the nice-guy cops I have read about have had some baggage. But then, I have plenty of emotional baggage myself, so it seems more realistic to me.

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  3. Tracy - Oh, this is an author I've not yet 'met!' Thanks! And I do enjoy historical mysteries. Yes, I will definitely have to put Jennings' work on my list.

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    1. Margot, I think this would be a perfect series for you. And the historical setting and the crime investigation seem to fit together perfectly.

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  4. Glad you enjoyed it, but I don't think it's one for me.

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    1. Probably not, Col. She has a newer series set in WWII, also a police procedural, which is supposed to be darker. Although, Victorian times were pretty dark for the majority of people. She does not pretty things up.

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    2. Tracy, thanks for the extra info - i will check her other stuff out, which sounds more my thing.

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  5. Fascinating TracyK - I didn't realise the series was based on these books - thanks chum! Great comntribution to the challenge.

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    1. Haven't watched as much of the TV series, Sergio, and I like the TV movies better. Very rewatchable.

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  6. I was aware of the Murdoch Mysteries on TV (not seen them - they're on a channel we don't have) but had no idea they were books originally. They sound good....

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    1. The books are very good, Moira. I was very pleased that the 2nd one was even better than the first one. More books to look forward to. We did not continue with the TV series because it was less gritty than the TV movies or the books, too polished in our opinion. But we did not watch many of them.

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  7. This sounds like a very well done book! I love books that bring a different era to life in a convincing and well-researched way. It also sounds as though the characters were really well fleshed out, which is great. I agree completely that a movie or show can still be good even it is unfaithful to the original, as long it's enjoyable to watch :)

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    1. Katie, this historical mystery is one of the best I have read in bringing the era to life and not having that overshadow the mystery. I did not feel like the setting or historical events were being pushed at me. And I have been learning a lot about Canada.

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