Thursday, January 23, 2014

REVIEW: Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings

Except the Dying (Detective Murdoch, #1)Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format: Kindle
Narrated By: NA
Original Publication Year: 1997
Genre(s): Historical Mystery
Series: Detective Murdoch #1
Awards: Nominee for Best First Novel for the Barry Award and the Anthony Award

Recommended subtitle: Something seriously ain’t right with 19th Century Toronto’s Toffs.

This book is on my 100 Books Project List and the first I've read this year!  Only 19ish to go!

As a big fan of The Murdoch Mystery series produced by Canadian Television (as I mentioned in this post), I was interested to read the original material that it is based on. Coming to a book after having encountered it in TV or movie form (and vice versa) is always a little dicey. Preconceived ideas can have a significant impact on my opinion of a book. So as much as I’d like to judge this book completely on its own merit, I don’t think it’s possible. I enjoyed the book but I have to say I am a little disappointed.

Except the Dying follows Acting Detective Murdoch of the Toronto constabulary as he investigates the death of a girl found naked and frozen on the street. The girl turns out to be a maid who has run away from the rich family she serves but nobody is sure where she was going and how she got where she was found and without any clothes on. Murdoch is a despised catholic from a humble beginning but his intelligence has raised him to the rank of acting detective and he hopes solving this case will help him move up. And he also becomes emotionally involved in the case by inexplicably developing fondness for a prostitute who is a suspect. He is assisted by his friendly landlady and husband, the Kitchens, and Constable Crabtree. He also has to deal with a grouchy and unsupportive superior, Brackenreid.

The book does a pretty good job of painting a picture of Toronto during the late 19th century time period. Murdoch is a decent character who is easy to engage with though he is, perhaps, not as interesting or complex as he could be, but more on that later. The mystery was reasonably interesting though I felt the solution came out of nowhere. There were very few clues allowing the reader to try and solve the crime and the story was littered with rather clumsy red herrings. In the end the reason for the maid’s death was not well explained. Despite all these issues that popped up, as I reflected on the book, they didn’t actually bother me while reading and I did enjoy the book. It didn’t live up to the promise of the first few chapters, however and I was disappointed by the many differences with the TV series.

So, the elephant in the room; differences with the TV series. In some ways, I hate to include a comparison to the TV show, but if you come to the book series as I did through interest in the show I think it useful to point out the differences. First of all, it’s important to note that this was just book one in a 7 book series, so further character development likely occurs that didn’t happen here. On the show, Crabtree and in many ways Brackenreid are almost stereotypical (but very likeable) comic relief characters. This is not their role here, at least in this first book. In fact, Crabtree is married with several children. This means the book is not at all humorous or light-hearted which is fine but different then the tone of the show. The character of Murdoch was disappointingly a little shallowly drawn and boring, lacking the passion for technology and policing that TV-Murdoch does. I generally expect to get more depth of character from a book then a TV show but this isn’t the case here though to be fair, I’ve been much longer acquainted with TV Murdoch. There is no Dr. Ogden which was a huge disappointment for me. She is my favorite character on the show and I love her and Murdoch’s partnership both professionally and romantically (though this has turned into a bit of a soap opera) and really like the view she provides into the life of women at that time.

Final Verdict: The book was enjoyable despite some pretty significant flaws that came to me upon reflection and differences with the TV show. I will pick up the second in the series at some point in the future.

Anybody else fans of the show and who has also read the books?  Do you think it's fair to compare a book to it's version in another media?

View all my reviews

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