Under the Dragon's Tail: A Murdoch Mystery is a police procedural set in Toronto, Canada in the late 1800s. Detective Murdoch is summoned to investigate the death of a woman in a rundown rooming house. At first, it appears to be an accident, a drunken fall. However, evidence soon indicates that the woman, Dolly Merishaw, was murdered. Dolly was a mean, hard living, beer drinking, midwife and abortionist. She had three charges in her care; a mute daughter and two young fosters, both boys. Once Murdoch learns this about the victim, he's convinced that she has met with foul play. When another body turns up in the same house, Murdoch isn't sure if he's after one or two murderers.
I was quite excited to be able to review this book. My husband and I are avid viewers of the TV show, Murdoch Mysteries, which is based on the Murdoch Mystery books by Maureen Jennings. We usually don't watch too many Canadian TV shows, but this one has us hooked. For me, it doesn't hurt that Yannick Bisson is easy on the eyes.
As much as I love the TV show, I loved this book more. I really enjoyed reading it. The storyline was interesting and mostly non-violent, which I really liked. The story was a little more sexual than I thought it was going to be. It wasn't at all gratuitous or over the top, just different from my expectations (more about that later). I also loved that the story, characters actions and scene descriptions were all in keeping with the time period in which the book took place. Even the language that Jennings used fit the time period (see New Words below).
I'm having a hard time separating my feelings for the book from those for the TV show. As I read, I saw the characters as the actors on TV. That would be fine, except that I found myself liking and disliking characters in the book based on whether or not I cared for the actor who portrayed them on TV. As for the sexual sections in the book, again those expectations came from the TV show, which I'm sure have to contend with censors.
New words: There are plenty of new-to-me words in the book. At least some of these were used in the time period in which the book is set. Here's a sampling:
sluggard (page 14): lazy person
quadroon (page 22): an offensive term for somebody with one black and three white grandparents
mithering (page 65): scolding
huckaback (page 103): coarse fabric for towels
tubercles (page 109): lesion
gainsaid (page 129): opposed
enceinte (page 274): pregnant
escritoire (page 282): writing desk
antimacassars (page 284): a piece of fabric place over the back of an armchair to keep it clean.
Highly recommended for mystery lovers. Even if you don't watch the TV show, I'm sure you'll like this book. I'm definitely going to pick up more of these Murdoch Mysteries.
For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit McClelland & Stewart'swebsite.
For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Maureen Jennings's website.
I'd like to thank those nice people at McClelland & Stewart and Random House for this review copy.
Under the Dragon's Tail by Maureen Jennings, McClelland & Stewart, ©2003. ISBN 9780771043352(Trade Paperback), 295p.