An interrupted 19th-century honeymoon ends 38 years later in a violent outburst.
Niagara Falls, 1858. A young bride named Lena is abducted from her husband and sold into slavery. She ends up at the Toronto home of Catherine Dickie, whose son and daughter-in-law, Leigh and Caddie, beat her unmercifully for the slightest infraction. Flash forward to 1896, when William Murdoch, the dogged cop who’s finally made full detective at Toronto’s number four station, is led to the corpse of Daniel Cooke, who’s been strung up in his own livery stable and whipped “between 37 and 39 times,” according to medical examiner Dr. Julia Ogden and her curiously off-putting acquaintance Prof. Marc Broske, a lecturer on the physiology of fear. It’s obvious to the reader, if not at first to Murdoch, that the second crime in some way echoes and avenges the first, but what exactly is the connection? The mystery, as usual in Murdoch’s adventures (Let Loose the Dogs, 2003, etc.), is never very obscure, and the climactic surprise not all that surprising. But Jennings’s tour of fin-de-siècle Toronto—a grim city whose denizens include dry-eyed widows, dyspeptic cabbies and directors of alcoholism clinics all as brutal as the bare-knuckles boxing matches that flourish just outside the city fathers’ purview—is by turns bracing and chilling.
A surprisingly tender tale of slavery, addiction, violence and revenge served ice-cold.