Friday, June 8, 2012
Vices of My Blood by Maureen Jennings
The story opens with the murder of a clergy man, a crime that shocks the community and seems to be thought quite unforgivable. We are presented with a few likely suspects: Sarah Dignam, the parishioner who might have more going on with the reverend than just prayer meetings; Matthew Sweezey, his competitor for the job; Esther Tugwell, a poor woman whom the reverend denied aid; Mr. Drummond, a local grocer who thought Sweezey should have got the job; Jack Trevelyan, a tramp found with the dead man's boots and watch; and on and on. Most of the characters seem to feel the murder of a man of God makes no sense, as how can he have any enemies? But the story itself betrays potential murderers at every turn. I guess anyone can get stabbed in the neck with a letter opener.
Murdoch is quite creative in his methods, disguising himself as a tramp and spending the night in the workhouse among them. Through her story, Jennings manages to shine a disturbing light on urban poverty and the fallibility of religious charitable endeavours.
At home, Murdoch lives in a boarding house with some lovely people, chief among them a teacher named Amy Slade with whom he is quite charmingly in love. Amy was my favourite character - she is a feminist, gets in trouble for wearing pants, and thinks marriage is a bum rap for ladies. I like that she is presented as not only a viable love interest for Murdoch, but also an equal in conversation and household duties. Positive portrayals of feminism are few and far between, so Amy was a total unexpected bonus for me. I also liked Dr. Julia Ogden, the pathologist who inspects the body and who refuses to take any crap from Murdoch (or anyone). Badass female characters in Victorian stories - yes please!
I liked this book a lot. The pacing is good, the characters well drawn (except some of the other policemen, whom I found a bit interchangeable), and the setting of Toronto at that time adds a fascinating element. In the acknowledgement the author details the changes she has made to certain locations, and the historical accuracy of the layout - it's a lovely touch.
I understand that there is a whole series of Detective Murdoch novels (this is the sixth), and a TV series as well. It's great to see that a Canadian female author has created such a successful narrative franchise; I will definitely read more of her work in the future.
Four CN Towers out of five