River of Darkness by Rennie Airth

14 December, 2011

You all know I’m crazy about historical mysteries, right? OK, maybe I haven’t been reading as much as I used to, but that’s only your fault for putting too many other books in my path. My favourite genre is historical mysteries, especially those set in the medieval and interwar periods. And I have been meaning to read Rennie Airth’s Inspector Madden books for many years. And finally, I found the first in his trilogy, River of Darkness in my local library. Huzzah!

The river of darkness is the darkness that snakes through the human psyche which is often hidden away by genteel trappings but is nonetheless there and every so often cannot be suppressed and raises its ugly head, often resulting in violence and death. In the novel, this is what Inspector Madden and his team at Scotland Yard comes up against when they are sent to investigate a blood bath at Melling Lodge, in the sleepy village of Highfield. The whole household lies butchered and the beautiful wife is found naked with her throat slashed. But otherwise, she hasn’t been touched. As Madden delves into the mystery, he encounters similar tragedy elsewhere and is soon on the hunt for a serial killer unlike no other. The only clue he has is that the killer had fought in the Great War. As the killer prepares for his next putsch, will the police find him in time? And will Madden be able to overcome his own trauma as he makes friends with the village doctor who has also suffered loss in the war?

I don’t know why, but I was expecting something very, very dark. But in fact, River of Darkness is pretty easy to read. Although it does touch on some dark subjects such as post-war trauma and sexual deviance, there was something that lacked the gravitas I was expecting. I’m not sure exactly what. Maybe it was the writing style which was smooth and perhaps a tad too simple. Nothing wrong with that as I prefer it to unintelligeable prose.

The plot was pretty strong, although it bordered on the melodramatic, but then we are talking about murder and the darkest of human emotions. Airth also brings in the fledgling sciences of psychology and psychoanalysis which was interesting, especially the suspicion with which they were viewed by the police and media.

What I really liked about the book though, was the character of Inspector John Madden. A bruised individual who has lost everything and goes about his business because he has no other choice. There was something very tender about the cadaverous man, old before his time and carrying deep scars. His relationship with his boss, Chief Inspector Sinclair is companiable and built on respect. As well as the main mystery, Airth also delves into the hierarchy of Scotland Yard and life as a working detective.

All in all, River of Darkness was a well realised mystery and I’ll be looking forward to reading the next two books in the series, The Blood-Dimmed Tide and The Dead of Winter.

7 Responses to “River of Darkness by Rennie Airth”

  1. Pursewarden Says:

    One of my favourites this, Sakura. There is a another series you would like too which is similar in mood and period except that the detective is haunted by the voice of a dead boy (called Billy perhaps?) but I cannot remember off-hand who wrote it. Perhaps some else can help out? I have an idea it my be a mother and son team who write under one pseudonym.

  2. Pursewarden Says:

    Just checked my books on LIbrarything. I think it’s Charles Todd of whom I was thinking.

    • sakura Says:

      Hello Guy, I’ve read the first in Charles Todd’s series and really enjoyed it. Have been meaning to get back into the series but distractions, distractions… I think they’ve started a new series featuring a WWI nurse which I also want to try. I’m looking forward to reading the next in this series though:)

  3. I haven’t heard of this series, but it sounds quite interesting. I find it fascinating the way that I often find myself immediately and intensely drawn into mystery series because of the protagonist. They are often rather damaged individuals, but a human element pulls me in, and I find myself wanting to reach for the next volume, or installment, of *their* lives, with the cases falling to the background.

  4. Dave Says:

    Actually, I found ‘River of Darkness’ to be one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a very long time. I’m currenly reading the first of the Charles Todd mysteries, but so far it isn’t in the same league. http://corrigan1.livejournal.com/20640.html

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