Under the Dragon's Tail

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9780061097409: Under the Dragon's Tail

Where Secrets Dwell

Women rich and poor came to her, desperate and in dire need of discretion. And though Dolly Merishaw tended to their unfortunate circumstances in secret, her contempt and greed bred nothing but fear and loathing in the hearts of her clients. So it's no shock to detective William Murdoch when this malicious woman is murdered. What is a surprise, though, is the young boy found dead in Dolly's squalid kitchen a week after her demise. Now, Murdoch isn't sure if he's hunting one murderer or two.

The investigation takes Murdoch into Victorian Toronto's disparate social circles--from the dingy rooms of dancehall girls and the chaste parlors of temperance-touting citizens to the fine drawing rooms of the city's prestigious elite. The more he learns about Dolly and her clientele, the longer his lists of suspects and motives grows. Clues lead him to several unlikely suspects--all of whom have secrets from their pasts linking them to Dolly and what she malevolently called her "record of sins."

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Review:

Maureen Jennings sets up this 19th-century tale of blackmail and murder rather like a jigsaw puzzle: each chapter introduces new clues, new characters, and new points of view until the complete picture is revealed. As we discover who might have suffocated Dolly Shaw, a capricious, demanding drunkard, Jennings explores the permutations and stratifications of society in Toronto at the close of the century. Although the victim is a violent, scheming wretch of humble dwelling and few connections, her death draws in the range of men and women who employed her services in her profession as a midwife: the wife of a prominent judge who seems to care for little except fashionable clothes and her young ward; a theatrical performer who sells her various talents both before and behind the stage; and the detective, William Murdoch, who tries to solve the mystery and appease his own loneliness after the death of his fiancée.

Jennings has a subtle touch. She not only explores Canadian society caught between the stiffer British and the more freewheeling Americans but also considers the period's reliance on patent medicines for everything from inducing miscarriages to promoting virility; examines the shifting athletic interests after the introduction of the bicycle; and evokes the stink of stale beer sold cheaply to the city's poor. Her ear for 19th-century language is more true and her evil deeds are less foul than those of Anne Perry. And while she lacks the rollicking good humor of Elizabeth Peters (although there are a few light moments), she is much more accessible than the sometimes impermeable Peter Ackroyd. Under the Dragon's Tail is a worthwhile book and a solid follow-up to Jennings's first, Except the Dying. --K.A. Crouch

About the Author:

Maureen Jennings emigrated to Canada from the UK at the age of seventeen. Best known for the Murdoch Mysteries series, the TV adaptation of which has been running since 2008, Jennings has also launched a new contemporary series featuring a forensic profiler named Christine Morris. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband, two cats and two dogs.

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Jennings, Maureen
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