River of Darkness by Rennie Airth is the first book in the John Madden series and is an intriguing mystery that kept me enthralled to the last page.
The book is set in the aftermath of World War 1, as the war veterans struggle to put their lives back together after the horrors of trench warfare. Suffering from shell-shock, Inspector Madden is haunted by his war time experiences and by the death of his wife and daughter from Influenza when he is called in to a small village in Surrey to investigate a gruesome murder.
Madden has a gut reaction that this murder is more than a robbery gone wrong, which is what the local police believe. Drawing on the emerging disciplines of forensics and forensic psychology, and with the help of the local doctor, Helen Blackwell, Madden finds that the hunt for the killer triggers his own inner demons. Nevertheless, he pieces together a profile of the murderer bit by bit.
Even as someone who doesn’t normally read mysteries (I know! With our fabulous Mystery and Crime collection, too. I am ashamed of myself.), I truly enjoyed Rennie Airth’s writing. His characters are intriguing and richly written. John Madden’s psychological trauma could easily have verged into being a cliche, but with Airth’s deft hand it provides a believable backstory and motivation for his actions. The story itself is tense and suspensfully writen.
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