Maureen Jennings, Canadian mystery writer, is at the top of my fave authors’ list. She’s best known for her Murdoch Mysteries series that occur in Toronto, Canada during the Victorian period. Detective William Murdoch is employed by the Toronto Police Constabulary at Station House 4. While Murdoch prefers modern policing methods over conventional forms, his boss, Inspector Brackenreid, looks down his nose at the former. The two sometimes clash, since Brackenreid, a former detective for Scotland Yard, is old-school in his approach. Brackenreid also takes into serious consideration the politics that go with the job. Murdoch, though, prefers to search for truth. Their diplomatic and idealistic views during cases tend to frustrate Murdoch, who does not approve of having his hands tied.
Poor Tom is Cold is the third book in the series.
Constable Oliver Wicken is dead. A suicide note is found by his body in a building that adjoins the Eaken family’s estate. The cause of death is a bullet to the side of his head that came from his own pistol. This has everyone believing Wicken committed suicide—everyone except for Detective William Murdoch.
Wicken’s mother insists her son would never take his own life. A man and his son in Chinatown know more than they’re letting on. A young, beautiful woman surfaces at the inquisition, insisting she’s Wicken’s fiancée. Peg Eaken, the third wife of the rich Mr. Eaken is committed to an insane asylum by her step-children. How does all this tie into Wicken’s death, though?
It’s up to Detective Murdoch to separate fact from fiction, while walking the streets of Toronto with a horrible toothache. Aiding him is coroner Dr. Julia Ogden and Constable George Crabtree.
My dear husband introduced me to William Murdoch through the television series. He was watching the episode Power one evening that featured Nikolai Tesla. Right then I adored this loveable, eccentric, lonely, and socially awkward detective. Through a LiveJournal community, I learned Murdoch Mysteries was based on the characters from Maureen Jennings’ novels. Being such an avid reader, I ordered every single one of them, which I devoured from late summer to early fall a couple of years ago.
Detective Murdoch resides in a boarding house owned by the Kitchens. Every evening, after hanging up his badge, he sits at the fire with Mr. Kitchen who suffers from consumption, as they hash over the day’s events. Mr. Kitchen always has sound advice, while his scolding wife, Mrs. Kitchen, keeps Murdoch’s belly full. Having lost his dear Elizabeth to consumption a year ago, Murdoch is attempting to transition into the here-and-now by enrolling at a dance school to meet a possible future wife. Raised a strict Catholic, he’s at odds over a religion he’s fiercely devoted to, while his modern-day mind plagues him with doubts.
Jennings’ research of Victorian Toronto is excellent, and she easily weaves historical facts into the novel that don’t read like a history lesson. Her Victorian characters are true to form, along with their mannerism, speech, and morals. The same goes for technology, such as Murdoch’s trip to a 19th century dentist, and his visit to the insane asylum.
The television series was spawned from three made-for-television movies starring Peter Outerbridge as Detective William Murdoch and Colm Meany as Inspector Brackenreid. Each movie was based on the following novels: Except the Dying, Poor Tom is Cold, and Under the Dragon’s Tail. The movies proved so successful that a series was in order, featuring Canadian actor Yannick Bisson as the eccentric detective. Jennings serves as a creative consultant.
Although the movies stay true to form, the TV show is slightly modernized—not enough to downplay the Victorian era, but enough to keep twenty-first century watchers intrigued…I guess. LOL. The movies have a darker feel, even the lighting, while the TV show is brighter with a lace of humour.
Character interaction is also a bit different. In the novels, as I mentioned earlier, Brackenreid and Murdoch clash, while in the TV show they respect one another–and even get along. There is also a romantic sub-plot between Dr. Julia Ogden and Murdoch, which isn’t present in the novels since he is infatuated with the lovely widow Enid. Constable Crabtree is also brought front and center, but in the movies and books, he serves in a more minor roll, instead of a strong secondary character.
Be sure to check out Ms. Jennings’ series: Except the Dying (1), Under the Dragon’s Tail (2), Poor Tom is Cold (3), Let Loose the Dogs (4), Night’s Child (5), Vices of my Blood (6), and A Journeyman to Grief (7).