Friday, June 8, 2012

Vices of My Blood by Maureen Jennings

Did I mention already that I love mysteries? This novel is a lovely, gruesome little mystery set in Victorian-era Toronto. It features Detective William Murdoch, a charming bachelor who rides his wheel (bicycle) everywhere and likes to actually solve crimes instead of just rounding up the nearest tramp and sticking him in jail.

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



  1. Thank you for this thoughtful review . . I read it to Maureen . .
    Iden Ford (husband)

  2. Thank YOU for reading! I'm so touched. It really was a great novel; I thoroughly enjoyed it.