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A Journeyman to Grief by Maureen Jennings

A Journeyman to Grief

by Maureen Jennings

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I picked this book up on a Monday and had finished it by Tuesday. I was thoroughly entertained, couldn’t put it down, and subsequently spent some time researching the historical incident on which it was based.

This is the 7th in Jennings’ Detective Murdoch series. I read the first one and enjoyed it, and I think that the series gets even better as it goes along. Set in 1890′s Toronto, the novels are more serious than Murdoch Mysteries, the enjoyable and slightly tongue-in-cheek tv show based on them. Both the books and the tv show give more space to vigorous, intelligent female characters and social themes than is often the case in mysteries that feature a male protagonist. Thanks Maureen Jennings!

The murders to be solved in A Journeyman to Grief are connected with incidents that occurred 40 years earlier when Blacks were still slaves in the southern U.S. and Toronto was a destination on the Underground Railroad. The story is gripping and it was only after I finished reading the book that I questioned some of the intricacies in the plot.

The historical aspect of it was convincing and well done. I learned that the expression “up to scratch” comes from bare-fisted (and illegal) boxing, as does “throw in the towel.” Jennings was inspired to write this book by a historical incident reported in Recollections and records of Toronto of Old by William H. Pearson. Published in 1914, this book records Pearson’s memoirs of mid 19th century Toronto. At Adelaide and Church

"where the Post Office now stands, was the livery stable of James Mink, a colored man and somewhat notable character. He was a very well-known citizen, a man of marked individuality, considerable intelligence and good business ability. He was stout and rather fine-looking. He had a violent temper and used to deal very roughly with the boys, so that we gave his place a pretty wide berth. His livery stable was a large one and he kept a number of good horses. He did a large business and was reported as being well off. In addition to his stables he kept a hotel called the “Mansion House Inn.”

He had a daughter who was very black, though she had good features, was tall and quite dignified, and attracted considerable notice. Her father, wishing to improve her social position, openly stated that he would give a considerable sum of money to any respectable white man who would marry her. By-and-by a suitor came along, won the heart of Miss Mink and was accepted by her father, and it was not long before they were married, and with her the husband obtained the promised pecuniary consideration. He took her for an extended trip in the United States, and when they arrived at South Carolina the disreputable scoundrel cruelly sold his young wife into slavery, and she being young, healthy and good-looking brought a considerable sum of money. The father, on learning of the dastardly trick played upon himself and his daughter, took
immediate steps to repurchase her and brought her back to Toronto. Poor Mr. Mink had to pay very dearly for the coveted honor of having a white man for his son- in-law !" (p 63-64)

The story of James Mink and his daughter was also made into a tv movie (Captive Heart) with Lou Gosett Jr., which played rather loose with the facts but is worth renting. Better yet, read a Murdoch mystery for yourself! ( )
  liliannattel | Feb 6, 2014 |
I didn't know that the show I watch was also a book. Now that I read torontoc's review I am going to have to get my hand on them
  callmejacx | Mar 6, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0771043384, Paperback)

The abduction of a young woman in 1858 ends in Toronto thirty-eight years later — in murder.

In 1858, a young woman on her honeymoon is forcibly abducted and taken across the border from Canada and sold into slavery. Thirty-eight years later, Detective Murdoch is working on a murder case that will take all of his resourcefulness to solve. The owner of one of Toronto’s livery stables has been found dead. He has been horsewhipped and left hanging from his wrists in his tack room, and his wife claims that a considerable sum of money has been stolen. Then a second man is also murdered, his body strangely tied as if he were a rebellious slave. Murdoch has to find out whether Toronto’s small “coloured” community has a vicious murderer in its midst — an investigation that puts his own life in danger.

Maureen Jennings’s trademark in her popular and acclaimed Detective Murdoch series is to reveal a long-forgotten facet about life in the city that dispels any notion that it really ever was “Toronto the Good.” As well, in A Journeyman to Grief, an exceptionally well plotted and engrossing story, she shows just how a great harm committed in the past can erupt fatally in the present.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:13 -0400)

In 1858, a young woman on her honeymoon is forcibly abducted and taken across the border from Canada and sold into slavery. Thirty-eight years later, Detective Murdoch is working on a murder case that will take all of his resourcefulness to solve. This engrossing story shows just how a great harm committed in the past can erupt fatally in the present.… (more)

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