Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Maureen Jennings's "A Journeyman to Grief"

Maureen Jennings has written seven Detective Murdoch novels: Except the Dying, shortlisted for both the Anthony and the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Awards, Under the Dragon’s Tale, Poor Tom Is Cold, Let Loose the Dogs, shortlisted for the Anthony Best Historical Mystery Award, and Night’s Child, shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award, the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award, the Barry Award, and the Macavity Historical Mystery Award, and Vices of My Blood.

The latest book in the Detective Murdoch series is A Journeyman to Grief, to which Jennings applied the "Page 99 Test" and reported the following:
I was most intrigued by the "test." I must admit I was tempted to cheat. My p. 99 quoted below is representative of the book in that it is Victorian in detail and tone but it is a necessary bit of plot carrying, workman like I hope but not sizzling. The tone is rather jovial but that is not typical of the rest of the book except at moments. I did have fun slipping in a little bit of learning about the times with Musgrave's telling of cab rates and so on but I prefer p. 327 which comes near the end of the book. Even though I wrote it myself and it is completely made up, I found it one of the saddest passages to come out of my brain. Can we institute a last chapter test?

A Journeyman to Grief is a murder mystery and as such obeys the conventions of the genre. My detective, William Murdoch has a crime to solve and pursues his investigation. However, the theme of the book for me is betrayal. Terrible personal betrayal by one human being of another but in the background, the huge and tragic betrayal of slavery, the repercussions of which are still with us.

Here's p.99:

"Come in," Murdoch called, and George Crabtree entered. If he was surprised to see Murdoch sitting behind the desk, he didn't show it.

"George, Mr Musgrave is about to give me his formal statement. Write it down for me will you?"

Crabtree would spot any discrepancies or embellishments to what he'd already heard. "Mr Musgrave, will you proceed? Start with your name and address please?"

The cabbie removed his tobacco plug from his mouth and wrapped it in his handkerchief, which from the look of it had been used this way many times before.

"My name is Paul Musgrave and I live at 210 Wilton Street."

"How long have you worked for Daniel Cooke?"

"Oh, 'bout three years now."

"What sort of employer was Mr. Cooke?"

Musgrave slapped his hand on his knee. "As good as they come. Conscientious to a fault. He was there when we booked out and sitting waiting when we booked in. Mind you, he kept his distance, which is only proper in my opinion. People take advantage if you don't, it's only human nature. But you always knew where you stood with him.Pay your dues and he was pleased as could be. We rents out the cabs, see, and we pay that no matter what. One dollar a shift, which you've got to make up in your fares. We keeps what we take in, but we pass over five per cent of that to Cooke for wear and tear, as he calls it." He rubbed his hand over his face. "Or should I say, called it, may he rest in peace. That's why he was always on us to look at our dockets, which as you know the city council has strict rules about. In the first division, which is city limits, it's fifty cents. If you go to the second division, that is to Dufferin street west or Pape in the east, it goes up to seventy-five cents."
Visit Maureen Jennings's website.

--Marshal Zeringue