Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Down to Airth

I have been following the work of South African-born novelist Rennie Airth since 1999, when I picked up the UK edition of River of Darkness, his first novel starring then Scotland Yard inspector John Madden. I enjoyed that book so much, I reviewed it for January Magazine, and have been reading Airth’s sequels ever since.

Last week, publisher Viking released a new installment in Airth’s series, The Reckoning, about which I wrote earlier in Kirkus Reviews:
Although he’d planned only a trilogy of novels about Scotland Yard inspector John Madden, beginning with 1999’s River of Darkness and concluding with 2009’s underappreciated The Dead of Winter, Airth has suddenly introduced this fourth entry into the series. And a welcome addition it is. Set in 1947, it ropes Madden--who’s currently enjoying retirement with his village-doctor wife in the Surrey countryside--into a case of apparently random killings. The first victim was an unassertive banker, shot in broad daylight. The second was a Scottish physician, executed in like manner and perhaps with the same weapon. As Insp. Billy Styles, Madden’s erstwhile protégé, investigates these homicides and more in their wake, he’s disturbed by a note the banker left behind, unfinished, requesting contact information for Madden. The ex-cop insists he knew neither victim. Despite that, he joins Styles and a rare female detective on the London force, Lily Poole, to determine what ties the killer’s targets together, and whether they can prevent more fatalities to come.
I count this among my favorite Airth novels, made even more interesting by its rather creepy cover illustration, created by British artist Matthew Taylor (previously applauded for his efforts on a set of seven John Le Carré re-releases). Taylor also produced art for Penguin’s repackaged paperback editions of Madden’s previous three adventures. They were all inspired by the work of Jessie Gillespie, who illustrated the 1918 book Soldier Silhouettes on Our Front, by William Le Roy Stidger. You’ll find that book online here.

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