cover image Under the Dragon's Tail

Under the Dragon's Tail

Maureen Jennings. Thomas Dunne Books, $21.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-312-19348-5

Life in late-19th-century Toronto comes startlingly alive in Jennings's second gripping tale, after Except the Dying, 1997. Acting-detective William Murdoch investigates the murder of former midwife Dolly Shaw, the foster mother of three children. Her deaf daughter runs from the police and hides while the two young sons stay at the house and fend for themselves. Dolly's meager effects turn up the calling card of a prominent judge's wife and a note that suggests she had been blackmailing someone. Murdoch learns that a young stage performer, Annie Brogan, was seen entering Dolly's house on the night of the murder and that Annie's sister is pregnant by the judge's footman. Annie finally admits she visited Dolly for abortion herbs and that she stole an autograph album in which Dolly recorded information about the illegitimate births she attended. The judge's wife, who is guardian of the child of her dead cousin, denies knowing Dolly. When Dolly's older son is murdered, Murdoch continues his search for the killer in both upper-crust society and the world of the popular stage. At the same time, he trains on his bicycle for the city-wide police tournament and ruminates on his solitary life. Along the way readers are given a vivid, heart-wrenching picture of the poverty of many in Victorian Toronto. (Oct.)