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While Rennie Airth's first John Madden mystery is a well-done and enjoyable read, it can't help but feel derivative. Madden is an ex-soldier returned from the trenches of WWI and deeply marred by the experience, like Charles Todd's Inspector Rutledge. He's confronted by an archetypal serial killer, but before the archetype would have been familiar to everyone. So when he consults a visiting acolyte of Freud's, the Viennese psychiatrist Franz Weiss, he receives a profile surprising to him but entirely mundane to us. And, as is the way in British mysteries in particular, the killer inevitably targets the woman doctor who has become Madden's lover, so that hunted and hunter are intertwined to a degree that strains credulity. That said, Madden is a strong enough character to carry the story and the reader is relieved that the affair brings him out of his post-war funk and back to life . Personally, I thought the best part of the book though was the politics and dynamics within Scotland Yard, as Madden and his mentor sought to fend off a publicity-hungry rival.


Grade: (B)


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Rennie Airth Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Rennie Airth
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Rennie Airth (Penguin Books)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: River of Darkness by Rennie Airth
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Blood-Dimmed Tide by Rennie Airth
    -INTERVIEW: Rennie Airth: Murder Between the Wars (Beatrice)
The first impulse to embark on the Madden series came some years ago from an idle thought: How would the police have dealt with the problem posed by serial killers before they were recognized as such; before the very concept of forensic psychology had been developed? By chance, at about the same time, I was going through some old family albums and came across a scrapbook which my grandparents had kept in memory of their elder son who was killed in the First World War. Leafing through it I discovered something I hadn’t known before: The telegram they’d received advising them of his death had arrived in the same week as another telegram from the War Office informing them that their second son, my father, who like his brother was an officer in the British army, was missing. Fortunately he proved to have been captured, but I was struck by how appalling these twin blows must have seemed to them at the time.

From then on I began to read more about that terrible conflict and the deep scars it left on society. These two lines of thought came together and eventually led to the first of the Madden books, River of Darkness, in which the psychological damage inflicted on both protagonists, hunter and hunted, by their experiences in the trenches plays a major part in the story. [...]

To return to the question I started with—how the police might have hunted a serial killer in those days—I resolved early on to introduce a form of ‘profiling’ into my plots, while recognizing that this would have been resisted by diehard elements in the police force at the time, and for that purpose I created the character of a Viennese psychoanalyst, Dr. Franz Weiss, who appears in the first two books. A pupil of Freud’s, he is able to offer invaluable advice to the detectives investigating the series of murders, and being Jewish he also becomes a symbolic figure in the second of the stories as the Nazi party comes to power in Germany.

    -ESSAY: Dangerous Minds: Criminal profiling made easy (Malcolm Gladwell, 11/12/07, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of River of Darkness by Rennie Airth (Christopher Dickey, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of River of Darkness (Karen Meek, EuroCrime)
    -REVIEW: of River of Darkness (A. JUREK, BLOGCRITICS.ORG)
    -REVIEW: of River of Darkness (Jeri Wright, Mystery Reader)
    -REVIEW: of River of Darkness (Susan Gillmor, HistoricalNovels)
    -REVIEW: of The Blood-Dimmed Tide by Rennie Airth (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Blood-Dimmed Tide (Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Blood-Dimmed Tide (Diana Sandberg, Reviewing the Evidence)
    -REVIEW: of Blood-Dimmed Tide (Denise Pickles, Reviewing the Evidence)
    -REVIEW: of Blood-Dimmed Tide (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Blood-Dimmed Tide (J. Kingston Pierce, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth (Jane Jakeman, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Dead of Winter (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Dead of Winter (Kate Grimond, Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Dead of Winter (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Dead of Winter (Mike Ripley, EuroCrime)
    -REVIEW: of Dead of Winter (Martin Levin, Globe and Mail)
    -REVIEW: of Dead of Winter (Marcel Berlins, Times of London)

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