Rennie Airth

Pan pbk

Released:, February 5th 2010, £7.99

Reviewer: L J Hurst

  Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung  

Ten years after River Of Darkness and five years after Blood Dimmed Tide, Rennie Airth his completed his John Madden trilogy. Madden has long been retired from the police force and is now a farmer on the South Downs. It is December 1944, another of those dreadful wartime winters, the farmers are still working every possible minute on every possible acre to raise food, the Germans are sending their V weapons over. Then, while on a trip to London, in the frozen blackout, a land girl, a Polish refugee, is murdered, hardly off the train, having journeyed from Madden’s farm.     

When the police have identified the girl they begin to see her death in a wider and worse way. Though this may have been a spur-of-the-moment murder it is not the work of a first time killer. It is not even the work of an unskilled murderer. It must be, though – and this realisation does not come quickly or easily – the work of someone so skilled that they have avoided capture for many years. Madden is only part of the police effort, for much of the time used for his historic knowledge and former contacts, meanwhile the official force in the shape of his colleagues Angus Sinclair and Billy Styles continue to collect information, only to find themselves coming to a dead end – literally, as a shoot-out near the docks kills their most likely informant.     

A continental connection becomes apparent – not with Poland, the first victim’s birthplace, but France, where the refugee must have crossed with diamond dealers, diamond stealers and their murderous sidekicks.  How they connected, though, remains unclear. The Allies have been in France for six months – this is December 1944, remember - and some of the French police are working again, feeding information back to Scotland Yard via infuriatingly bad telephone calls and military intelligence. Madden, though, goes off on another tangent, back to the East End where the good will he earned a quarter century before when he was a local bobby pays off in human knowledge. Unfortunately, that knowledge seems to be that the target can make himself near-invisible. Madden’s final confrontation with the monster is not as epic as that in River Of Darkness, but it comes near.

Finishing The Dead Of Winter I have a few thoughts. The range of the cast (particularly a struggling police woman) seems to have overlapped with John Lawton’s Inspector Troy series. There may be one or two anarchronisms – Madden and his Scotland Yard friends address each other by their first names, for instance; and ordinary people seem to know that the V2s are rockets – and even possible misunderstandings, as when a “utility” coat is thought to be poor (the Utility Mark meant good, officially recognised quality, made to last, as did my grandfather’s overcoat which I wore into the early ‘eighties).  Still, after a brilliant start in River Of Darkness, while the long delayed Blood Dimmed Tide was disappointing, in The Dead Of Winter Rennie Airth has restored himself.






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