Murdoch Mysteries: Poor Tom is Cold, by Maureen Jennings

Review published on May 12, 2012.Reviewed by John Redfearn

‘Gawdelpus’ is not the name of Toronto police station number four’s cat. Neither is it Sergeant Gardiner’s friendly nickname for Acting Detective William Murdoch. It’s the greeting an insomniac, half-frozen, soaking wet, swollen faced, fishy smelling and sealskin-coat clad Murdoch receives from the sergeant on arriving in the station one dark November night.

Nowadays at the first twinge of a toothache its off to that nice dentist for a rapid fix of anesthetic and some not quite painless drilling and filling. Not so in the 1890’s, when denial was followed by hope that the pain would go away all by itself and then more denial. More hoping followed and then a variety of homespun pain relief recipes until finally, when all hope finally failed, a visit to the torture chamber where the offending molar would be examined, tapped, examined more and then ruthlessly extracted. Guts of blood and pus might well have ensued but the pain would, finally, be over. Unless an abscess had formed and eaten away at the underlying jawbone. Luckily for Murdoch when he finally braved the dentist’s chair he was gassed with nitrous oxide and was away with the fairies when his tooth came out.

The inconvenient Peg suffered rather more than Murdoch from the medical practices of the day. The last thing her stepson wanted was for her to produce any offspring who might dilute his inheritance when his elderly father died. So her committal to a lunatic asylum had to be arranged. It’s not hard, with Maureen Jennings’ writing, to imagine the sheer helplessness someone like Peg must have felt in that situation.

Constable second-class Oliver Wicken went missing on that same cold, wet November night. Sergeant Hales, out checking on his minions didn’t see him, did his trick with pebbles and doorknobs to no avail and arrived back at the station just after Murdoch’s toothache drove him there. Murdoch set out to search for Wicken, and not long after found his body in an empty house. Suicide, or murder?

This is another fine work,with,  it turns out, a relatively straightforward plot hidden amongst abundant red-herrings and subtly enhanced by evocative nineteenth century backgrounds and a rich cast of characters. Maureen Jennings is a star.



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