When Constable Oliver Wicken, of Toronto’s number four station, doesn’t appear at his late-night check point, acting detective William Murdoch goes looking for him, and all too soon discovers his body inside an abandoned house along his beat. The boy’s been shot, the gun jammed between his legs; a note in his pocket reads, “LIFE IS UNBEARABLE WITHOUT YOUR LOVE. FORGIVE ME.” Arthur Johnson, the imperious coroner, needs no further evidence to rule the death a suicide, especially when Mary Ann Trowbridge, secretly betrothed to Wicken, testifies that she’d quarreled with him and dismissed him earlier that night, and when a local Chinese launderer identifies her as the young woman he saw Wicken with an hour or two before his death. And no one on the hastily convened jury is minded to dispute the coroner’s findings. Still, a few details continue to nag Murdoch—especially his memory of a woman beseeching him, “Help me, please help me,” as she was being carried out of a neighboring house the following day, and the hint that another witness may have overheard a similar plea the night before. Murdoch doesn’t know that the pleading woman, Peg Eakin, is now in peril almost as great as Wicken’s, but Jennings keeps her readers close to Peg from the beginning, even at the cost of squelching what little mystery there is behind Wicken’s death.
As carefully sensitive as Jennings’s first two evocations of 1895 Toronto (Under the Dragon’s Tail, 1998, etc.), though perhaps the most thinly plotted of all.