Maureen Jennings’ name should be familiar to Canadian mystery readers as well as fans of the TV adaptations of her seven novels starring Victorian-era Toronto detective William Murdoch. She has since turned her attention to a more contemporary setting, introducing forensic profiler Christine Morris in 2006’s Does Your Mother Know. Morris returns in The K Handshape for a second go-round, with mixed results.
Morris is a no-nonsense, plainspoken heroine, perfectly happy to be nearing the fortysomething hump but less satisfied with the continuing difficulties with her prickly mother Joan and her long-distance relationship with Scottish detective Gordon Gillies. Professionally, she gets thrown for a loop when a missing persons search conducted with colleague Leo Forgach turns to tragedy: the drowned, strangled body they discover in a nearby lake is Forgach’s deaf daughter, Deirdre.
Tasked with protecting Forgach from his worst instincts and leading the investigation, Morris plunges into Deirdre’s world, a militantly activist one where choosing to give birth to a deaf child invites controversy, hate mail, and a possible killer. Jennings unravels her narrative with deliberate precision, setting up a cavalcade of possible suspects and intriguing plot twists, but pulls the rug from the reader with an ending that plays slightly unfair.
The K Handshape also suffers from some pedestrian writing that favours cliché over original turns of phrase – Morris says she is “tired out of my mind” and “good buddies” with a great many individuals – but Jennings makes up for it with believable supporting players. The book’s greatest strength, however, is Christine Morris. Jennings wisely leaves Morris’s next move open, so that readers will pick up the next installment.