Book review: Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings

Except the Dying is the first book in Maureen Jennings’ Detective William Murdoch series and the basis for the Murdoch Mysteries television series on CBC.

I will readily admit that I had previously avoided this book, first published in 1997, (and the resulting series) because of my complicated feelings about mysteries set in locations that I am overly familiar with (I avoid ones set in Ottawa in general as well). However, after being pushed into watching the TV series on a semi-regular basis, I saw this at a used book sale and picked it up.

The plot of Except the Dying is straightforward, and not unusual for an historical mystery — a maid from a well-to-do home is found dead and frozen in the Toronto winter of 1895. Murdoch is unconvinced that the death is accidental and further information proves him correct. The investigation runs the scope of doctors, gentlemen, and prostitutes.

I’ve read a lot of historical mysteries over the years and Jennings does a more than credible job. Her late nineteenth century Toronto is vividly described, but it is really the characters that hold centre stage. And people do not really change all that much over time and space. The eventual resolution was not overly surprising, but it was satisfying nonetheless.

Comparing the novel to the television show, the novel is far grittier and (I dare say) more realistic. The Murdoch of television is a sanitized version 0f book-Murdoch, who is far more interestingly complex and troubled by his work. The book also took a broader approach to telling the story, often spending time with other characters for extended periods. (Some other recurring characters — notably Crabtree — are substantially different in book and novel form.)

I liked the book enough that I will be seeking out the others in the series. I like book-Murdoch a fair bit more than tv-Murdoch, although I will confess that over time the tv show has grown on me.


What I’m reading

I just started reading The Treacherous Net by Helene Tursten, a Swedish writer. The book is part of a series revolving around Detective Inspector Irene Huss. In the book, two teenage girls are found dead and the resolution may be related to someone they met on the internet. Huss’ personal and professional challenges round out the story. So far, I am enjoying this quite a lot. The story is well done. Occasionally, the language is simplistic, but that probably comes down to the translation.

What I’m watching

We got to the end of available Netflix episodes of Death in Paradise (end of series 3), which I liked tremendously. Hopefully, series 4 is available soon, as series 5 just began to air in Britain. There is a bit of a surprise (vast understatement) in the first episode of series 3 which I initially found off-putting, but it worked out quite satisfactorily.

To get our mystery fix, we have reverted to Agatha Christie’s Poirot, as Suchet never disappoints and the series’ attachment to the original stories and novels is admirable.

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