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Night’s Child

by Maureen Jennings

In Night’s Child, the fifth Detective Murdoch mystery, Maureen Jennings once again takes readers to the dark side of Victorian Toronto. This time around we discover that the rough trade of child pornography was already racking up victims a century ago.

Schoolteacher Amy Slade finds four disturbing photos in a student’s desk. One is of the student, Agnes Fisher, under the heading “What Mr. Newly-wed really wants.” When Agnes misses school the next day, Miss Slade takes the photos to Detective Murdoch, and the case is afoot. Murdoch needs to find the photographer, and through his pursuit readers are introduced to the world of turn-of-the-last-century photography (including the strange practice of photographing the recently deceased). The mystery is compounded when a body is found and the victim is the subject of one of the other pornographic photos found in Agnes’s desk.

Jennings interweaves a number of subplots involving Murdoch’s love interest, the widow Mrs. Enid Jones; Miss Slade and her fellow tenants at her boarding house; and the slandering of Sergeant Seymour, a friend of Murdoch. When the final pieces of the puzzle fall into place, Jennings manages to tie in almost every character she has introduced and throw in an unexpected plot twist.

The portrayal of Victorian life in Toronto rings true. We feel the chill of the poorly heated rooms and sympathize with all those at the margins of society. Detective Murdoch continues to concern himself excessively with his search for love and happiness, but he’s a strong and likeable character. This is a well-written, tightly plotted mystery, at least the equal of the previous installments.

Jennings has also shed more light on the issue of child pornography by depicting its practice in 1895. We have become all too familiar with headlines about pedophiles found hoarding thousands of digital photos. By showing us something of this activity in what we may have assumed was a more innocent time, and by illustrating the lives of the poor, desperate victims, Jennings has made new the horror of this crime.


Reviewer: Jeff George

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart


Price: $24.95

Page Count: 300 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-7710-4374-0

Released: May

Issue Date: 2005-5

Categories: Fiction: Novels