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Let Loose the Dogs

by Maureen Jennings

Among the retro charms of this historical whodunit is its lone, modestly snuffed corpse. Maureen Jennings’ Victorian mystery centres around just one killing – a simple, even drab affair in which a man drinks too much, staggers into the night, and is later found brained in a ravine. This understatement not only contravenes the current standard body count of at least three tabloidesque murders per novel, but also, perhaps, reflects the book’s austere Upper Canada milieu.

Simpler times, simpler crimes: in the Toronto of 1895, everyone was too God fearing, and too hungry, to be bothered to send florid messages to police or to plan baroque serial deaths based on obscure poetry. The single slaying in Let Loose the Dogs contains timeless, all-natural Canadian ingredients: beer, bad weather, and tricky terrain, swiftly followed by a perp incarcerated in the Don Jail.

The perp’s long-estranged son, as it happens, is diligent, personable young Detective William Murdoch. When his father claims that he has been wrongfully convicted, William is reluctantly persuaded to re-examine the events of the night that the victim, one John Delaney, was found dead at the bottom of a slope near Yonge Street. Delaney’s dog had won the big money at a betting match that evening, and Delaney was flush with cash.

But robbery turns out to be the least likely of motives. As Murdoch investigates the circumstances of Delaney’s death, he discovers that the boarding houses and commercial establishments of the county of York are full of stricken families and the muffled rage of women.

Let Loose the Dogs is skilled, if muted, entertainment, with an odd distinguishing feature: an inordinate number of characters in the book fall ill or become injured. This is probably an accurate reflection of the privations of the period, but may give some readers a case of the vapours. With her next book, Jennings should ease up on the woe and pallor, and offer one or two more surprises and thrills for contemporary readers. No one is suggesting that Let Loose the Dogs turn into Who Let the Dogs Out?, but a little more ruff stuff might bring us to heel.


Reviewer: Adair Brouwer

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press/H.B. Fenn


Price: $34.95

Page Count: 356 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-312-30751-9

Issue Date: 2003-4

Categories: Fiction: Novels