A masked man bursts through the door of The Toronto Bank and fires two shots into the air, throwing the bank into chaos. The robber has the tellers to fill his bag and when he finishes, he kisses a teller on the lips and escapes into the street. The Kissing Bandit has struck a third bank and so Murdoch is put on the case. During each robbery the bandit kisses one teller and then flees, taking such little sums of money that it hardly seems worth the risk. Shortly afterward, like a modern day Robin Hood tale, the stolen cash is distributed to local charities.
The series takes place in Toronto in the 1890s and follows Detective William Murdoch of the Toronto Constabulary, who solves many of his cases using methods of detection that were unusual at the time. These methods include fingerprinting, blood testing, surveillance, and trace evidence.
Detective Murdoch is assisted by the three other main characters: Inspector Brackenreid, Doctor Julia Ogden, and the inexperienced but eager Constable George Crabtree, who aspires to be a mystery-novel writer. Brackenreid, Murdoch's immediate superior, is a blunt and sceptical Yorkshireman with a fondness for whiskey, and prefers conventional methods of detection over Murdoch's eccentric methods, though he is typically pleased and proud when Murdoch is successful despite the odds. Crabtree is often unable to grasp the more advanced methods, but his enthusiasm and loyalty make him a good assistant. Like Crabtree, Dr. Ogden is a great supporter of Murdoch's methods. Her skill in pathology usually helps by revealing a great deal of useful evidence to aid Murdoch in solving cases.
Throughout the series Murdoch's growing infatuation with her, and his inability to express his feelings, provide a light subplot. In the fifth season, after Dr. Ogden is married to Dr. Darcy Garland (a colleague she met in Buffalo), a new doctor is introduced, Dr. Emily Grace. She and George Crabtree show some romantic interest in each other.