Except The Dying – Maureen Jennings

Maureen Jennings was born in 1939 in Birmingham, England; however, she moved to Windsor, Ontario, Canada with her mother at the age of seventeen in 1956.  She graduated with a M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto around 1965.  In 1966 she taught English at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute.  She left for a career as a psychotherapist in 1972 and published her first novel, “Except the Dying” in 1997.

This is one of those rare occasions where I first saw a TV movie which prompted me to read the source material.   Having seen “Murdoch Mysteries” listed in a promo clip from a DVD release of something published by Acorn Media, it looked interesting.  I rented the “series” which in reality were three movies that were produced staring Peter Outerbridge in the role of Detective Murdoch.  The first movie was an adaptation of Except the Dying with a number of significant differences between the book and the movie; however, they both stand well in their own rights….well, enough about the movie, what about the book?

Maureen Jennings is nothing if not exacting in her research of her adopted country and city’s past.  The novel takes place in turn of the late 19th century Toronto where William Murdoch is a Catholic police detective investigating the murder of young girl found drugged, strangled and nude in an alley in the red light district in the middle of Winter.  It is later discovered the girl was pregnant but everyone believes she was a prostitute, except for Murdoch.  Murdoch must investigate despite resistance from his superiors, because he dares interview and suspect members of Toronto society.

The novel is well written, completely engrossing and paints an incredibly vivid picture of Victorian-era Toronto following a massive tuberculosis outbreak and bitter winter where many buildings are still abandoned.  TB is still an ever present threat, some of those closest to Murdoch are dying of it, poverty is rampant and the divide between the haves and have-nots is  wide although even those that have are not all living as lavishly as they once did.  The mystery is ever present and it’s hard sometimes to remember that some of the investigative techniques that we take for granted (thanks to TV, movies, etc…) were just beginning to come into existence, such as fingerprints.

I highly recommend the novels.

The movies are good, but not for the squeamish and with some fascinatingly creepy (and titillating dream sequences).

The long running TV series, known as “The Murdoch Mysteries” in Canada and the UK and currently airing on Ovation in the US as “The Artful Detective”, which is based on the characters less than the novels can be hilarious and entertaining.

If you enjoy this, please read:

  • Under the Dragon’s Tail
  • Poor Tom Is Cold
  • Let Loose The Dogs
  • Night’s child
  • Vices Of My Blood
  • A Journeyman to Grief
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