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Past forward

Maureen Jennings, creator of the wildly successful Murdoch Mysteries series, sets her sights on the future and a new character

Knock on the door of Maureen Jennings’s house, and expect to be greeted by Murdoch, a whip-thin grey Labradoodle with soulful eyes. Jennings laments that he isn’t the brightest, but Murdoch performs tricks, like barking answers to basic arithmetic questions.

Jennings’s Victorian brick house is standard fare in her charming Toronto neighbourhood. Originally a farming community, the former village was annexed by the city of Toronto in 1888, seven years before the setting of her debut mystery novel, Except the Dying (1997), which introduced the world to her dog’s fictional namesake, detective William Murdoch. Christie Pits is nearby, a former quarry turned public park named after biscuit mogul William Mellis Christie, who co-founded the Christie & Brown Cookie Company in 1861. A racially motivated riot in that park’s history plays a role in Jennings’s new novel, Heat Wave, the first title in her planned Paradise Café trilogy, and the first with her new publisher, Cormorant Books.

Normally, this slice of history wouldn’t deem a mention, but this is Maureen Jennings. Her Murdoch Mysteries series and its wildly successful television adaptation have brought Toronto’s Victorian-era past to millions. A meticulous researcher blessed with deep curiosity, Jennings, 79, finds inspiration in all sorts of places: in archives, old newspapers, and in the antiquarian books she orders online. Even the streets act as a reference library of sorts.

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