cover image Poor Tom Is Cold

Poor Tom Is Cold

Maureen Jennings. Thomas Dunne Books, $23.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-312-26892-3

The plethora of historical mysteries makes it difficult for a writer to carve out a time and place uniquely her own. However, Jennings has laid strong claim to the Toronto of the late 19th-century with the Anthony award-winning Except the Dying and Under the Dragon's Tail, and she cements her hold with this deft combination of mystery and social issues. Now an acting detective, William Murdoch faces heartache and toothache as well as the troublesome (apparent) suicide of a young constable, Oliver Wicken. The constable's body is found in an abandoned house on his patrol route when his supervisor reports his absence. A note by the body suggests Wicken killed himself over a lover's rejection. A witness even comes forward to claim she was the woman involved. Murdoch's investigation is driven as much by the desire of the police to avoid the stigma of a suicide in its ranks as it is by a desire to expose a crime. Jennings exposes the era's ""political correctness"" without ever mounting a soapbox or becoming strident. So many incidentals of her book fascinate, horrify or inform: the treatment of those consigned to the ""insane asylum""; the prevailing prejudice against Chinese and Catholics; the new, ""painless"" dentistry then available. The result is a satisfying mystery perfectly wedded to its evocative setting. Jennings's sales and reputation should continue to grow with this third strong effort. Agent, Teresa Chris. (Feb. 6)