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Bookends: Sampling the World of Detective Murdoch June 4, 2013

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Bookends: Sampling the World of Detective Murdoch

Except the Dying

By Dan Davidson

January 16, 2013

 

Except the Dying

by Maureen Jennings

McClelland & Stewart;

368 pages

$17.99

 

Now that Murdoch Mysteries has moved over to CBC, where it should probably have been in the first place, I thought it was time to read some of the source material. I have read one of Jenning’s other mysteries, the second in her Christine Morris series (The K Handshape) and knew her work was enjoyable, but I hadn’t gotten round to the Murdoch books. Indeed, while I had seen the original TV movie trilogy, in which the main character was played by Peter Outerbridge, I hadn’t paid much attention to the present series until they decided to film the season five opener here in Dawson.

In preparation for meeting the new Murdoch, Yannick Bisson, best known to me from those breezy CIBC commercials, I searched out the available past episodes on the CITY-TV website and watched the concluding shows from season four.

The TV movie version of Except the Dying bears a closer resemblance to the book than the subsequent television series. That’s fine. Books and TV shows are different animals and what works in one format doesn’t always in the other.

The latest reprint edition of Jennings’ 1997 novel has a cover featuring the characters from the show. New readers will be surprised to find how few of them are in the book. Neither of the lady medical examiners made it to Jennings’ version of 1895 Toronto. Inspector Brackenreid is there, but he’s a bit different. Slender Officer Crabtree is a massive football player of a fellow. Murdoch himself sports a mustache and isn’t quite the amateur inventor we have come to know; nor is he quite as well educated.

Lacking a Dr. Ogden to bounce his ideas off, this Murdoch retires to his boarding house at the end of the day and talks things over with his landlady and her consumptive husband while sipping tea and huddling under blankets in bitterly chilly sick room where the windows are open to help effect a cure.

At this beginning point in the series there is no romantic interest, but there is a hint that a single mother and her young son may soon be fellow boarders, and something may develop over the next six novels in the series. Jennings seems to have concluded making additions to the series in 2007, the year before the TV show began, but after the three TV movies were produced.

Since that time she’s been working on the modern day series Christine Morris and a series about another detective set in World War Two England, which is where and when Jennings was born. There are some other projects mentioned on her website.

Except the Dying takes us to Toronto on 1895, and to the murder of a young maid who is seeking to avoid desperate circumstances in the house where she has been working. She is found naked in an alley, stripped of her clothes by two lower class women who took them for themselves. They describe themselves as glove makers, and they do a bit of sewing, but they make a living in other ways as well.

Who was she? Why did she die? When it is discovered that she had been drugged, there is no longer any question as to whether she was murdered. Murdoch and Crabtree pound a lot of pavement and the case only seems to get murkier once they ferret out her identity.

She was pregnant. Does that mean that someone in her employer’s house had something to cover up? Who else have had a motive? There seem to be too many possible suspects and everyone in that household seems to have a secret they want to keep.

When one of the glove makers, who did see the girl before she was killed, also vanishes and then turns up dead, it is clear that there is something nasty afoot, but this actually provides a few more clues as to what has been going on and leads to the discovery of the villains behind the murders.

This was a good read. Not heavy going, but heavy enough to keep my interest. The books are available in a new set of matching covers, or as e-books.

 

-30-

 

 

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