by Amelia Gordon
For those of us who are huge fans of the TV series Murdoch Mysteries, the publication of the trade paperback Night’s Child (first published in 2005) is a welcome addition to our Murdoch library. The publication is no doubt spurred by the spectacular success of the TV series, as the cover of the book attests. Here we have a clean shaven Murdoch and the other characters in the Murdoch sleuthing team: Constable George Crabtree, Inspector Thomas Brackenreid. Dr Julia Ogden and Dr Emily Grace. Author Maureen Jenning does a masterful job of evoking late 19th century Toronto and her mysteries are intriguing. In this case, a young girl disappears from her school class and her teacher finds a series of 19th century pornographic photos in the girl’s desk. Murdoch sets out to track the child. The book follows a number of threads: an elderly woman whose sentimentally precious brooch has disappeared (and she accuses her loyal retainers of theft), a female photographer who specializes in momento mori photographs of the dead and has “light” fingers inconsistent with her societal position; a beloved teacher wearing rational dress and whom, we suspect, is lesbian (although any admission of this fact would be taboo in 19th century Toronto), homosexuality of a member of the police force – it is all interwoven into a really interesting police procedural.
There is, however, one catch: the TV Murdoch has become so implanted in our minds that it is difficult to picture the Murdoch of the book. The book Murdoch has a mustache; the TV Murdoch is clean shaven. The book Murdoch smokes and drinks; not so Yannick Bisson, our TV hero. The book Murdoch has an active libido; we are under the impression that the TV Murdoch would only seduce the woman he truly loves, Dr Julia Ogden. The book Murdoch occupies a tiny cell of an office near the jail cells; the TV Murdoch has quite a nice office. The book Inspector Brackenreid is a hopeless drunk, the subject of Murdoch’s disdain; the TV Brackenreid is definitely an alcoholic, and has a fiery temper, but nonetheless an intelligent and attractive gent. The TV Crabtree is a bachelor obsessed with his aunts; the book Crabtree is married with daughters.
If you visualize books, as I do, the images are confusing. Nonetheless, if you concentrate on the book alone, this is an intriguing mystery. One criticism: too many threads are left dangling, however this may have been intentional. The author points the way to the answer, but except for the central mystery, allows the reader to fill in the blanks.
Night’s Child is published by McClelland & Stewart and is available at Mill Street Books in Almonte