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    POOR TOM IS COLD by Maureen Jennings

    Thomas Dunne, St. Martin's Minotaur, February 2001

    Acting Police Detective Murdoch has enough trouble with a toothache and bad luck in love--he definitely doesn't need a dead Police Constable. Despite the young man's being the only support for his mother and handicapped sister, all of the evidence points toward suicide. Despite the evidence gathered in an official inquest, Murdoch and his captain are concerned. Not all of the evidence fits, especially when two fiancees turn up. Could they actually be investigating murder?

    In the house next to the location where Constable Wicken died, a woman is apparently going insane. She believes that her new family (she married an older man with grown children) poisoned her son and is now trying to kill her. Convinced she is insane, the family commits her to a terrible turn-of the century asylum. It seems a long shot, but could Peg Eakin have seen something? Could her sudden insanity have something to do with the Constable's death?

    Maureen Jennings writes convincingly about life in late Victorian Toronto (Canada). Class distinctions, prejudice against Asians, the well-meant mistreatment of the mentally ill and those who simply failed to meet society's expectations, and the methods of policing in the early 20th century are carefully painted. Murdoch is a sympathetic character. Facing both personal (on top of his rotten tooth, the woman he loves rejects his Catholic faith) and professional problems, Murdoch continues to seek the truth. Her portrait of Peg Eakin leaves the reader guessing whether she is, in fact, insane, or whether her paranoia might be well founded.

    POOR TOM IS COLD is a satisfying read as a mystery, historical novel, and a character study. I did find the conclusion a little too convenient, but this is a minor quibble in an otherwise quality effort.

    Three Stars

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