Friday, April 01, 2011

Murdoch Mysteries, or gritty Victorians

This is one I should have got to before now: a boost for Murdoch Mysteries, an atmospheric detective series set in 1890s Toronto.

I don't know much about the series or about the novels by Maureen Jennings on which it's based, but my first experience with the show finds a highly moral hero with a bent for science, up-to-date production values, and a grittier look than one might expect from even current mysteries set in the Victorian era.

Among other things, the series will be a reminder for crime fans that London was not the only city in the English-speaking world in 1890. I'll be off to watch a bit more once I've made this post, and you should be, too.

(An interesting touch is the lack of respect Toronto's rich show Murdoch. This accords nicely with a theory I've read about the late development of the police procedural in English crime fiction. The theory suggests that a police officer would not have made a credible fictional hero because his social standing would not have made him a believable inquisitor of the nobility. ... Another is a chilling rendering of "She Moved Through the Fair," not the first time that Irish folk song has been invoked in recent crime fiction or television.)

***
The protagonist, Police Detective William Murdoch, uses the word criminalistics a time or two in at least one episode. I suspected anachronism, and one source says the word was first recorded in 1943 — decades after the era in which the series is set.

Another source, however, traces the word to the German Kriminalistik, coined by Hans Gross, a pioneer in the field whose work would have been new precisely in Murdoch's time. So I'd call the anachronism permissible. (Gross is a character in author J. Sydney Jones' Vienna historical mysteries set in Vienna.)
***
P.S. A comment below from Murdoch/Jennings fan Iden Pierce Ford points out that my post refers in fact to one of three Murdoch Mysteries TV movies from 2004 and 2oo5, rather than to the television series that followed, now in its fourth season. It appears that I have lots of watching and reading ahead of me.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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16 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

For the last few weeks I've been paying attention to Canadian politics more closely than I normally do. And I suppose because of this I happen to know that the current PM has appeared in the TV series adaptations of Murdoch Mysteries in a cameo. He is a huge fan of the books and the show, apparently. I havent read the books but they do have fans in high places.

April 01, 2011  
Blogger Jerry House said...

If I remember correctly, the first few episodes of CSI, the team called themselves "criminalistics"; the phrase was soon dropped as being unwieldy.

April 01, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Maureen Jennings is very good, The books are very dark and atmospheric. These days, they could probably pass for noir. I'm very glad she got some support from her publishers.

April 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, the clip of Stephen Harper's appearance on Murdoch Mysteries is available on YouTube. Somehow I can't picture an American head of state making a similar apperance, especially in a period drama.

April 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jerry, the word criminalist has popped up a time or two in my newspaper, but not in recent years.

Criminalistics is not obtrusive in The Murdoch Mysteries because the hero does not toss it off in a string of flashy technical mumbo-jumbo, as on all those godawful C.S.I. and Law and Order shows. Murdoch will say ruefully that "The inspector thinks criminalistics is a bunch of nonsense," for example. The word serves a dramatic function, in other words, and its use is entirely appropriate.

April 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., it's good to know that about Maureen Jennings books. The television series is certainly dark and atmospheric, a surprise for a Victorian piece. I may investigate the books.

April 01, 2011  
Blogger Iden Pierce Ford said...

Forgive me for dropping in as I noticed the link from the visits to Maureen's website which I regularly check as I keep stats on where the visits come from.
I believe you are watching the movies of the week which were created prior to the series being ordered. They are different in tone and direct adaptions of the novels which were studied very carefully by the then series lead Peter Outerbridge. The first two MOW's Except the Dying and Poor Tom Is Cold also starred Keeley Hawes and Colm Meaney. The third adaption of her books, Under the Dragons Tail created record ratings for the broadcaster in Canada, Bravo television, which subsequently led to a series being commissioned.
The whole show was re cast and the tone and look changed to more family friendly fare, which we like, but do not represent the tone of the novels.
We're not complaining, the show has been sold by ITV into over 100 territories and the producer stated this year she wants 8 years of Murdoch Mysteries. One year at a time please.
Also, we have signed Maureen up for Bouchercon and the first book in Maureen's upcoming WW2 trilogy, Season of Darkness, will be published this coming August in time for the conference.
http://www.maureenjennings.com/?page_id=250
The genesis of this trilogy started with Maureen's desire to set a series of books in the midlands UK where she grew up, August 1940 post Dunkirk. The first and third book in the trilogy features Inspector
Tom Tyler of the Shropshire constabulary. The books are part police procedural, part espionage, and part romance.
The second book in the trilogy, tb published Summer 2012, is entitled Beware this Boy and is set in and around a munitions factory in Birmingham UK 1940 during the bombing raids.
One of the great things that happened when Maureen was writing the second novel is that she also developed, with a partner, an idea for a television series featuring women who worked
in a munitions factory in Scarboro Ontario in 1942 and the show was picked up by Back Alley Films (Durham County) and sold to a broadcaster here in Canada for development.
The option on her two other books featuring Christine Morris forensic profiler, Does YOur Mother Know and The K Handshape, has been held by Shaftesbury Films in Toronto for the past four years.
Shaftesbury are responsible for the production of The Murdoch Mysteries, TV series. This past March they exercised the option after four years of renewal and hope to go into production
on these books sometime over the next twelve months.
This summer Maureen will be the recipient of the Grant Allen Award at the Scene of the Crime Festival http://www.sceneofthecrime.ca/festival/

I hope I do not offend by posting all this info so alas please feel free to delete.
Otherwise it is the official update to the author of the Murdoch Mysteries
cheers

April 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the updates and corrections. Indeed, my post referred to Except the Dying. Interesting your should mention the shift to a more family-friendly tone for the series. I had been surprised by the occasional nudity and sexual byplay in the Except the Dying.

In the meantime, I now have the movies, the series, and the books to explore -- not to mention the possibility of meeting Maureen Jennings at Bouchercon. Thanks again.

April 01, 2011  
Blogger Iden Pierce Ford said...

Looking forward to meeting you too Peter. One other note you might find interesting, and a natural segue from Murdoch to Maureen's ww2 series is, the actor who plays Brackenreid, Thomas Craig, so inspired Maureen to the extent that Tom Tyler, the DCI in the upcoming book Season of Darkness, is very influenced by Tom.
cheers

April 02, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, You're a few steps ahead of me there. I'm barely started on Murdoch's world.

April 02, 2011  
Blogger Jessica said...

The premise of 'Scarborough munitions factory' instantly made me think of Wind At My Back. Black Alley Films tends to be less family-friendly than Sullivan Entertainment so i am curious what comes of it.

Shaftesbury wanting to make 8 seasons of Murdoch Mysteries is a huge surprise to me. Some quick math tells me that if so done it would position the show to be able to be sold into strip syndication in the USA. 104 episodes is rather ambitious for a company known for shorter-run shows. I'm going to take it as good news added to the again rescheduled date for the Canadian season 4 debut, which was 7 June but is now 10 May.

If you didn't know, Stephen Harper was not in the version of "Confederate Treasure" that was transmitted last month in the UK. There are 2 versions of the episode. If you want to see the Prime Minister embarrass himself to make his daughter happy watch the Citytv version; if you don't want to see him at all then you want to watch the Alibi version which has the regular cast member as the desk sergeant.

Season 3 comes out on DVD and BD next week in Canada and USA. Over in the UK series 4 will be available on DVD in about 3 weeks. That should leave you plenty to catch up on.

If Mr Ford happens to see this perhaps he knows if there is to be a widescreen DVD release of the tv movies because i noticed Citytv's broadcast of two of them in March were window-boxed widescreen and both the current DVD release and the tv-rips from the UK are 4x3. Perhaps for sale on iTunes. Now that i know they exist in 16x9 the 4x3 DVDs feel incomplete.

April 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Stephen Harper's cameo is available on YouTube. I'm not sure if the rest of the episode is up as well.

Interesting that the Harper episode should be released in two versions, one with him and one without him. Talk about mixed messages!

April 27, 2011  
Blogger Iden Pierce Ford said...

Mr Ford has seen this. So Jessica seems to know more than I do so I will yield to her

May 05, 2011  
Blogger Iden Pierce Ford said...

Ps. Thank you for your reference in the post about me being a Murdoch/Jennings Fan. I am also married to the author. Cheers

May 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I am also married to the author."

In that case, I am especially glad that you are a fan. Cheers to you and to domestic felicity.

May 05, 2011  
Blogger Jessica said...

Mr Ford, i am too impatient to wait for the Canadian broadcast of Murdoch Mysteries so i acquire the British broadcast 'by any means necessary' to satisfy my cravings until i can watch the Canadian broadcast in HD. Having seen the clip on youtube from Mr Harper's appearance on BT and the same episode from Alibi in the UK it is not hard to notice an alternate take was used in place of what was shown on BT and subsequently put on youtube. What has me concerned now is that apparently you didn't know they had done this. You almost always know so much more than the average person is aware of regarding the production of the show so i am truly surprised that this was unknown to you. If you haven't seen it and need help finding a copy of "Confederate Treasure" as shown on Alibi i could maybe be of some assistance.

As to yielding to me, it is i who asked you if you know about a DVD re-release in widescreen of the made-for-Bravo movies. I ask you because i don't know but have seen them on tv recently in widescreen.

May 07, 2011  

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