River of Darkness

I loved the first novel in Rennie Airth's John Madden detective series - River of Darkness. It's an extremely well crafted crime novel, with a great period setting shortly after the First World War.

John Madden is a detective at Scotland Yard. The years just before and during the war were hard for him, losing his wife and small daughter to influenza just before the outbreak of war, he threw himself into the military life, only to face the horrors of the Somme and Ypres. Post-war he tries to settle to a life as a farmer, but finds himself haunted by the evils that he has witnessed, and so, reluctantly, returns to his original job as a policeman. Considered odd by some members of the Yard, his seeming aloofness and lack of ambition make him a not universally popular figure at the Yard; where he shines though is in his dealings with the general public. His empathy and ability as a detective means that he shines even in the darkest crime scenes.

His talents will be sorely tested when a well-liked local family are butchered in their own home. A young child is left traumatised, and with no obvious suspects, Madden is called in to what appears to be a burglary gone badly wrong. Madden soon realises though that this is something far more sinister, and it is unlikely to be the last killing.....

I thought this was a brilliant read. Airth skillfully shows an historical period that falling between two wars is often forgotten. Around this he weaves a dark tale of a serial killer and the horrors of war, along with a much more hopeful thread about the power of love and the possibility of redemption. I thought this was a great crime novel. Wonderful sense of time and place, good characterisation, and some characters I really cared about. His ability to ratchet up the suspense was superb. I can't wait to read the next instalment in this series.


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