“Set in Toronto at the dawn of the 20th century, Murdoch Mysteries is a one-hour drama series that explores the intriguing world of William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson), a methodical and dashing detective who pioneers innovative forensic techniques to solve some of the city’s most gruesome murders.” [Image & Text: Murdoch Mysteries Official Website]
You may know this Canadian television series, based on Maureen Jennings’ series of novels, as The Artful Detective, but if you’re completely unfamiliar with the show that can (and should) be remedied. All six seasons can be found in the library’s collection, but first a bit of advice: Do yourself a favor and grab or place a hold on the season that follows the one you’re currently watching. The show is 1) addictive, and 2) inclined to (wonderful, torturous) cliffhangers.
Now, I love Murdoch Mysteries for myriad reasons: fantastic, heart-snaring characters; delightful humor; interesting plots that reveal as much about the time period as the mystery at the heart of any given episode; and also for the notable real-life individuals, like H.G. Wells and Henry Ford, whose paths cross with Murdoch’s. (I’m not saying watching William Murdoch fanboy over Alexander Graham Bell will make your day except–all right, sure–that’s exactly what I’m saying.) And once these luminaries put in an appearance, if you’re like me, you’ll want to know more about them. So here, have a few reading lists.
The author of The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man appears in season three’s “Future Imperfect,” and while Wells may be in Toronto for a lecture on eugenics, trying to improve upon human genetic quality isn’t the only thing on his mind. Michael Sherborne’s H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life includes “material from the long-suppressed ‘skeleton correspondence’ with his mistresses and illegitimate daughter,” and doesn’t that just prompt a Huh, so his attempt to woo Murdoch’s go-to pathologist was, you know, not at all out of character. Apparently.
If Sherborne’s book isn’t enough bio for you, there’s Norman MacKenzie’s The Life of H.G. Wells: The Time Traveller, Lovat Dickson’s H.G. Wells: His Turbulent Life and Times, and for younger audiences (or for a shorter, quicker read), Keith Ferrell’s H.G. Wells: First Citizen of the Future. (If you’re in the market for a super quick overview, use our Biography in Context database for Wells or any of the other gentlemen mentioned in this post.)
How about this: Fiction-wise, you’ve read Wells’ big three (listed above); what else is there? The War in the Air and/or The Sleeper Awakes, for a start. If you want Wells in your fiction: A Man of Parts by David Lodge.
The barely suppressed glee Murdoch experiences upon meeting his idol in season five’s “Invention Convention” made me grin like a starstruck fool, it was that endearing and adorable. Undoubtedly, Murdoch knew all there was to know (at that time) about Bell, but if Bell basics are a bit hazy for you, perhaps one of these books might bring the man into focus:
- Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention by Charlotte Gray
- The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret by Seth Shulman
- The Sound and the Silence: The Private Lives of Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell by Tony Foster
- Genius at Work: Images of Alexander Graham Bell by Dorothy Harley Eber
Nikola Tesla appears in not one but two episodes: season one’s “Power” and season three’s “The Tesla Effect”. I was so very down with those multiple appearances, and not only because I was at the time entrenched in W. Bernard Carlson’s Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age, a new biography that spends as much if not more time on the step-by-step science of Tesla’s inventions as it does his life. (Side note about that book: Get used to the words commutator, stator, and rotor right now. Really. You’re going to read them a lot.) For another writer’s take on Tesla, consider Margaret Cheney’s Tesla: Man Out of Time, or David J. Hunt’s Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. If it’s a broader view you’re wanting, one with an expanded scope that also sets its sights on Tesla’s competitors, there’s Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jonnes. Otherwise, there’s always the man’s own words: My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla.
Tesla, that popular culture darling, pops up time and again in fiction and graphic novels. For instance:
- The Prestige by Christopher Priest
- Lightning: A Novel by Jean Echenoz
- The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
- New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear (Briefly, but this book is on my Yes, yes, read this! list)
- Atomic Robo. Volume one, Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener
- Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders
Murdoch leaves Toronto for the Yukon in season five’s “Murdoch of the Klondike,” where he meets up with an adventruous young man who, along with being handy in a bar brawl, takes an interest in an ongoing investigation and later latches onto a particular turn of phrase, one you might be familiar with: The Call of the Wild.
The author, known also for White Fang and The Sea-Wolf, was also an accomplished photographer. Jeanne Campbell Reesman’s Jack London, Photographer asserts that London took almost twelve thousand photographs in his lifetime (including photos that “documented the U.S. invasion of Veracruz during the Mexican Revolution”). London’s photographs, a few of them at least, are featured in Caroline Kim-Brown’s article “Through the Lens of Jack London,” which is accessible through the library’s Academic Search Elite database. Looking for something closer to a traditional biography? Request Earle Labor’s Jack London: An American Life or James L. Haley’s Wolf: The Lives of Jack London.
And if you have young fans of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet books or survival stories at home, offer them Christopher Golden’s The Secret Journeys of Jack London series (Book One: The Wild, Book Two: The Sea Wolves).
It was no great surprise when Ford turned up in season five’s “Who Killed the Electric Carriage?,” an episode that pit Pendrick’s runs-on-battery bullet car against Ford’s combustion engine. You probably know at least a little bit about Ford (because you watched The Men Who Built America, let’s say), but if you want to delve deeper into the man’s life, a few suggestions:
- The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts
- Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress by Douglas Brinkley
- I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford by Richard Snow
- My Life & Work: An Autobiography by Henry Ford (available through the Virtual Catalog)
I felt nothing but love for season one’s “Elementary, My Dear Murdoch”–Arthur Conan Doyle is my literary jam (or one of them). This episode hangs on Doyle’s interest in spiritualism (did you know he wrote two books about the subject? He did: The History of Spiritualism and The History of Spiritualism – Vol II) and science-minded Murdoch’s wavering belief in life after death. Sticking with that theme, you have several options for further reading:
- Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini
- The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World (Technically for younger readers, but…why not?)
- The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Reader: From Sherlock Holmes to Spiritualism by Jeffery Meyers
But maybe you’re not interested in that part of his life so much as the rest. There are plenty of biographies to go around.
- Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower
- Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters by
- The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by
Doyle is another one constantly showing up in fiction, but to be exceptionally brief about it:
- The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Vaughn Entwistle (This one is new!)
- The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler (I can’t be the only person who has read this?)
- The Patient’s Eyes: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes by David Pirie (This series also includes The Night Calls and Dark Water, and features a young Conan Doyle being mentored by the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Joseph Bell.)
You may think that after all that I’d be done. Nope. Aside from these historical superstars popping up, the show features other events you might take an interest in, like Canada’s stake in the American Civil War. For more on that subject: Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation by John Boyko; or Rebels on the Great Lakes: Confederate Naval Commando Operations Launched from Canada, 1863-1864 by John Bell. (Ask at the circulation desk about obtaining these titles through inter-library loan. You can also use the online form to submit your request.) Maybe you’re an opera fan; Puccini’s La bohème takes the stage in one episode. Listen to the music while reading Puccini Without Excuses: A Refreshing Reassessment of the World’s Most Popular Composer by William Berger. Or, oh! Season four’s “Bloodlust” mentions Bram Stoker and Dracula! While I could keep going–and I really could; every episode contains something that makes me want to know more–I won’t. Unless you want to know about Maureen Jennings’ books, in which case: