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In a quiet and picturesque English countryside where people are still recuperating from the ravages of World War I, the peace of a small Surrey village is shattered by the discovery of a horrifying murder. Five victims; four of them killed with military efficiency and, judging from the wounds, a military bayonet. The fifth victim, the lady of the house, is found nearly nak In a quiet and picturesque English countryside where people are still recuperating from the ravages of World War I, the peace of a small Surrey village is shattered by the discovery of a horrifying murder. Five victims; four of them killed with military efficiency and, judging from the wounds, a military bayonet. The fifth victim, the lady of the house, is found nearly naked, sprawled on a bed, her throat slashed with a razor. Even more startling than the actual carnage are two subsequent findings: the lack of any sort of sexual assault and the discovery of a child - a young girl hiding beneath a bed. Scotland Yard sends out Inspector John Madden to investigate the murders. Madden, with some heavy psychological baggage of his own courtesy of the war, recognizes the mark of madness in the killer's work and has a unique understanding of the killer's methods, habits, and rituals. While the local constabulary figures the murders for a robbery gone horribly wrong, Madden is quick to recognize the presence of a more sinister motive. He seeks the help of Dr. Helen Blackwell, a local physician who lost both her brothers and her husband to the war. Dr. Blackwell's professional connections include a Viennese psychiatrist who is well versed in the relatively new field of forensic psychology, and together they try to develop a psychological profile for the killer. The deeper Madden digs into the case, the harder it is for him to maintain the fragile wall he has built around his own painful memories. A spark between him and Helen Blackwell quickly becomes an all-consuming fire, and in the tender exploratory phase of their relationship, Helen gently urges him to face his personal demons head-on. Meanwhile, Madden discovers the killer has struck once before, a murder that was left unsolved. When Madden gets the idea to look for similar crimes that may have occurred during the war, he finds one, and a clearer and even more frightening picture of the killer begins to evolve. As the police investigation proceeds, plodding at times and getting fortuitous breaks at others, the killer plans his next attack. Together, killer and cops move along parallel timelines, a loose scrabble of concurrent events held together by a taut string of tension. When the string finally breaks, it culminates in a vivid and terrifying climax that demonstrates how fine a line often exists between sanity and utter madness. River of Darkness is the first book in a promised series. Inspector John Madden is precisely the type of multifaceted and complex character readers will enjoy meeting time and again. And the supporting cast of characters is the perfect complement, the sum total being a rich and full-bodied story. What's more, if Airth shows the same flair for finely etched prose and brilliantly manipulated tension as he does here, this series promises to be the start of a powerful new niche in psychological suspense, a uniquely fresh voice that will stand out among the crowd.


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In a quiet and picturesque English countryside where people are still recuperating from the ravages of World War I, the peace of a small Surrey village is shattered by the discovery of a horrifying murder. Five victims; four of them killed with military efficiency and, judging from the wounds, a military bayonet. The fifth victim, the lady of the house, is found nearly nak In a quiet and picturesque English countryside where people are still recuperating from the ravages of World War I, the peace of a small Surrey village is shattered by the discovery of a horrifying murder. Five victims; four of them killed with military efficiency and, judging from the wounds, a military bayonet. The fifth victim, the lady of the house, is found nearly naked, sprawled on a bed, her throat slashed with a razor. Even more startling than the actual carnage are two subsequent findings: the lack of any sort of sexual assault and the discovery of a child - a young girl hiding beneath a bed. Scotland Yard sends out Inspector John Madden to investigate the murders. Madden, with some heavy psychological baggage of his own courtesy of the war, recognizes the mark of madness in the killer's work and has a unique understanding of the killer's methods, habits, and rituals. While the local constabulary figures the murders for a robbery gone horribly wrong, Madden is quick to recognize the presence of a more sinister motive. He seeks the help of Dr. Helen Blackwell, a local physician who lost both her brothers and her husband to the war. Dr. Blackwell's professional connections include a Viennese psychiatrist who is well versed in the relatively new field of forensic psychology, and together they try to develop a psychological profile for the killer. The deeper Madden digs into the case, the harder it is for him to maintain the fragile wall he has built around his own painful memories. A spark between him and Helen Blackwell quickly becomes an all-consuming fire, and in the tender exploratory phase of their relationship, Helen gently urges him to face his personal demons head-on. Meanwhile, Madden discovers the killer has struck once before, a murder that was left unsolved. When Madden gets the idea to look for similar crimes that may have occurred during the war, he finds one, and a clearer and even more frightening picture of the killer begins to evolve. As the police investigation proceeds, plodding at times and getting fortuitous breaks at others, the killer plans his next attack. Together, killer and cops move along parallel timelines, a loose scrabble of concurrent events held together by a taut string of tension. When the string finally breaks, it culminates in a vivid and terrifying climax that demonstrates how fine a line often exists between sanity and utter madness. River of Darkness is the first book in a promised series. Inspector John Madden is precisely the type of multifaceted and complex character readers will enjoy meeting time and again. And the supporting cast of characters is the perfect complement, the sum total being a rich and full-bodied story. What's more, if Airth shows the same flair for finely etched prose and brilliantly manipulated tension as he does here, this series promises to be the start of a powerful new niche in psychological suspense, a uniquely fresh voice that will stand out among the crowd.

30 review for River of Darkness

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    This is the second book with John Madden and I'm beginning to like the series. It's a very good evening read if you're into police procedural; also, I like the description of post- WWI England. This is the second book with John Madden and I'm beginning to like the series. It's a very good evening read if you're into police procedural; also, I like the description of post- WWI England.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John

    Back in the days when I reviewed a lot for the late lamented Infinity Plus and Crescent Blues, I made a point of offering the small-press and even self-published titles the same level playing field as the stuff emanating from the big boys. This meant that, of course, in the pursuit of many undoubted pearls (the entire Akashic list, the stories of C.S. Thompson, etc., etc.), I also had to wade through an exceptional amount of, er, swine. In addition, I had to get used to reading text that was fun Back in the days when I reviewed a lot for the late lamented Infinity Plus and Crescent Blues, I made a point of offering the small-press and even self-published titles the same level playing field as the stuff emanating from the big boys. This meant that, of course, in the pursuit of many undoubted pearls (the entire Akashic list, the stories of C.S. Thompson, etc., etc.), I also had to wade through an exceptional amount of, er, swine. In addition, I had to get used to reading text that was fundamentally strong and filled with the kind of vibrancy you'd never hope for in a conglomerate-published novel, yet was packed with typos and grammatical howlers. And then there were the ones that offered the latter characteristic while also being abysmally plotted and written as if in crayon. In general, I quietly didn't review those. (One of the ghastliest of them I later noticed had been reviewed elsewhere. I found the reviewer hadn't shared my milquetoste compunction. "THIS IS THE WORST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL I HAVE EVER READ," he thundered.) And, on the same grounds, I probably wouldn't have reviewed River of Darkness, which differs from other outrageously badly written and edited novels I've read only in that it was published not in POD by the (since defunct) Snotwrangler Press of Poughkeepsie but by Viking. And it looked so good from the outside! We're in the immediate post-WWI years in Surrey, UK, where there's just been a spectacular massacre in a country mansion. Scotland Yard sends Inspector John Madden to investigate. He's a man with a tragic past and so psychologically deep he can hardly get his trousers unbuttoned without a rigorous routine of introspection ("By fuck, this man's interesting in all directions," I thought as my head hammered irrevocably into the pillow), but unbutton 'em he does pretty promptly in the company of local dreamboat doctor Helen Blackwell -- proving, I suppose, the old adage that some women will do anything to stop you talking about your tragic past (op. cit.). Madden suspects there'll be other massacres along these same lines in the Home Counties, and sure enough he's right. Obviously Blackwell is going to have a lucky escape thanks to Our Man's relentlesss pluck. As implied above, the text is littered with typos, not just of the kind where a letter has been transposed or a word omitted but including instances of sentences of dialogue being inadvertently run together; a specialty is the omission of quotation marks at the opening of a paragraph of dialogue, or even in the middle of a paragraph which mixes dialogue and narrative. All of this you expect in PODville; you don't expect it in a Viking hardback. You also don't expect the plot imbecility whereby (a) Our Man knows the villain makes dugouts near where he observes the next targets of his attacks; (b) the villain has made such a dugout and is observing a family; (c) Our Man and his team have discovered such a dugout on a hill overlooking that family's home; (d) they capture the dugout digger but it's the wrong man, because in the whole of England he chose the same hill in which to dig a dugout as the bad man did, and it just happens that the cops, given a million hills in England they could have found dugouts in, found one here. Even the Snotwrangler Press of Poughkeepsie might have balked at this sort of nonsense. I hardly need to add that, when I checked the Amazon listing of the book to see if, curse the thought, there had been sequels, I found not just that this was so -- there's apparently now a successful John Madden series -- but also copious reader reviews saying what spiffy, impeccable storytelling this was. Well, I don't care: the book's a complete mess and should never have been published in its current form.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Laura Leaney

    Boy, what sour lemon awarded this page-turning murder mystery one lonely star? Ridiculous. Apparently this bitter reviewer said his copy had typos all over the place. Well, my copy did not. It's true, this book isn't high art, but it's a very fun read IF you like police procedurals set in rural England, a la Miss Marple. Except, little Miss Marple has been replaced by John Madden, scarred hollow-eyed survivor of the Somme. (Cue: romantic sigh). Okay, so I saw the end coming............but not un Boy, what sour lemon awarded this page-turning murder mystery one lonely star? Ridiculous. Apparently this bitter reviewer said his copy had typos all over the place. Well, my copy did not. It's true, this book isn't high art, but it's a very fun read IF you like police procedurals set in rural England, a la Miss Marple. Except, little Miss Marple has been replaced by John Madden, scarred hollow-eyed survivor of the Somme. (Cue: romantic sigh). Okay, so I saw the end coming............but not until the end was nearly upon me. Seriously, we've got to bring back the village bobby. And little wooded places called "coppices" and the Bentley. This book was total escapism for me. I needed it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    D. Krauss

    I should not like this book. It's a police procedural with hardly any mystery to it: you know who the killer is right away, there's a lot of deaus ex machina dropping leads right in Detective John Madden's lap, and things so patently obvious you begin to wonder about the mental capacities of other important characters. But I like it. A lot. You should read it. Because, this is fin de siècle done right. Not like Downton Abbey, which is treating the world-turned-upside-down of WW1 like some bloody I should not like this book. It's a police procedural with hardly any mystery to it: you know who the killer is right away, there's a lot of deaus ex machina dropping leads right in Detective John Madden's lap, and things so patently obvious you begin to wonder about the mental capacities of other important characters. But I like it. A lot. You should read it. Because, this is fin de siècle done right. Not like Downton Abbey, which is treating the world-turned-upside-down of WW1 like some bloody inconvenience. The shattering of a whole way of life is stark and evident and is a character in itself here, personified in Detective John Madden, who is a ghost desperate to revive. And that's the point. The murderer is another ghost, but he's of worlds to come, not of worlds destroyed; a herald of modernism, something you know while you're reading because you have the advantage of hindsight and you just want to scream at the villagers and Scotland Yard officials, "Don't you see? Don't you get it?" No, they don't, which is what makes this so dang fascinating. Read it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    River of Darkness is a suspenseful murder mystery taking place in post-Great War England. The book is very well written and designed. From the initial, horrific crime to the final plot twist it firmly holds your interest. It will not appeal to those looking for light entertainment, but if you like intricate stories that dig into your soul, then I strongly recommend it. The title comes from a discussion that the protagonist has with a visiting psychiatrist. The “river of darkness” is the thing, th River of Darkness is a suspenseful murder mystery taking place in post-Great War England. The book is very well written and designed. From the initial, horrific crime to the final plot twist it firmly holds your interest. It will not appeal to those looking for light entertainment, but if you like intricate stories that dig into your soul, then I strongly recommend it. The title comes from a discussion that the protagonist has with a visiting psychiatrist. The “river of darkness” is the thing, the energy that develops inside us and drives some psychopaths. It is an appropriate metaphor for the evil that lives within the perpetrator. I will try to steer clear of spoilers, as I don’t want to dilute the impact that this book might have on another reader. In addition to the crime and its consequences this book gives us a glimpse into English society in the early 1920s. (I’m guessing that the story is taking place at least one year after the end of World War One.) We see the traditional institutions (Lords, landholders, villages, and local constabulary) and the changes that are occurring (automobiles, motorcycles, landholders selling off property to generate income). The people and their relationships are carefully drawn and seem believable and natural (even though I, like most Americans, never experienced this). This forms one part of the backdrop to the story. The other, essential part is The Great War. In the book, as in real life, it affected every segment of society and every locale in England and Western Europe. It has been said that a generation of men lost their lives in that war and that is almost literally the truth. The experience of that war, the massive carnage and its impersonal delivery by the chemicals, machine guns, and artillery, affect virtually everyone in this story. And it is written into the story to affect the reader, also. In reminisces and interviews the horror and cruelty that it inflicted is laid out for us. Even to a society that is unfortunately accustomed to serial killers, terrorists, and pedophiles, it grips you. After finishing my own thoughts, I’ll take a look to see why I might have added this to my TBR list. Like many others, it was probably from a Goodreads friend or review. I hope that I can convince you to pick up a copy, also. I’ve not read anything else by the author, but I will be looking out for more. This is at least worth four and is easily Four and One Half (4.5) Stars. Note 1: After reading it, I saw on the flyleaf that the author was inspired by a scrapbook about an uncle who had died in WWI. Inspiration may have come from it, but this author did a superlative job of creating a novel. Note 2: Having checked out my TBR list, I’m sure that I selected this based on author Laurie King’s 5-star rating. Many thanks!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Fictionophile

    Rennie Airth's first book in the John Madden trilogy was exceptional! More of a 'Whydunit" than a whodunit, the murderer's identity was revealed early on in the plot by having the narrative at times switch from the voices of the crime fighters with the criminal himself. It was a multi-layered novel with well-rounded characterizations. The male protagonist is John Madden, a Scotland Yard inspector who is also a veteran of WWI. His personal tragedy of losing his wife and young daughter to influenza Rennie Airth's first book in the John Madden trilogy was exceptional! More of a 'Whydunit" than a whodunit, the murderer's identity was revealed early on in the plot by having the narrative at times switch from the voices of the crime fighters with the criminal himself. It was a multi-layered novel with well-rounded characterizations. The male protagonist is John Madden, a Scotland Yard inspector who is also a veteran of WWI. His personal tragedy of losing his wife and young daughter to influenza coupled with his time in the trenches have damaged his psyche and left him grave and despondent. Set in a sleepy Surrey village, the crime is a particularly brutal one. A whole family have been murdered in their home by a bayonet wielding psychopath. Madden's experience in the military makes him particularly well suited to find the killer who he rightfully guesses is also ex-military. The local doctor, who has strong views in the new field of forensic psychology, aids his endeavors. When they discover that another similar crime was committed, they realize that they are looking for a serial killer who must be stopped before more blood is shed. The character of Dr. Helen Blackwell is very strong. She is forward thinking, bright, caring and just the person who can heal the damages suffered by John Madden. With well written red herrings and relentless suspense, this is a novel which invites positive criticism. The time period and sense of place are well portrayed and the descriptions stay with the reader long after the pages bearing them are turned.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    A pretty good British Scotland Yard type mystery, with the police searching for a maniacal killer. What separates this book from so many others is the horrible method of murder. Imagine, being in a comfortable house, on a cold, foggy night, when you hear a whistle...or do you? Then a man in a WWI uniform complete with gas mask kicks the door down and starts bayoneting everyone inside. This is what will stick with you long after the book is finished. Well done!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Suzy

    The first 25% of this book that takes place in 1920's England was agonizing for me! Agonizingly slow, perhaps too tame and a reminder that "police procedural" is my least favorite type of murder mystery. I wasn't sure that I would finish it, but it slowly drew me in. I especially liked the interplay between the Scotland Yard folks and between Scotland Yard and the inspectors/constables out in "the counties" where the murders take place. The narrator of the audio, Christopher Kay, was excellent e The first 25% of this book that takes place in 1920's England was agonizing for me! Agonizingly slow, perhaps too tame and a reminder that "police procedural" is my least favorite type of murder mystery. I wasn't sure that I would finish it, but it slowly drew me in. I especially liked the interplay between the Scotland Yard folks and between Scotland Yard and the inspectors/constables out in "the counties" where the murders take place. The narrator of the audio, Christopher Kay, was excellent especially in giving voice to each character and in building tension. On the negative side, I thought the book could have been shorter, and what was supposed to be a plot twist was easily guessed by this reader. Maybe I have post-WWI mystery fatigue. I have read almost all of the Maisie Dobbs series and some of the Joe Sandilands books. There are similarities in themes in all three series.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Susan Albert

    A first-rate British police procedural, set in rural South England in the early 1920s, with a main character (Madden) who is a survivor of the Great War. Excellent and highly plausible characters, richly detailed setting, realistic and believable story. Can't believe I missed this series when it first came out--eager to go on to the second book! A first-rate British police procedural, set in rural South England in the early 1920s, with a main character (Madden) who is a survivor of the Great War. Excellent and highly plausible characters, richly detailed setting, realistic and believable story. Can't believe I missed this series when it first came out--eager to go on to the second book!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Good crime fiction and an eloquent description of the period between the wars.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    4.5 stars In post WWI rural England, Inspector John Madden is called on to investigate a particularly grisly crime in which 5 members of a household are murdered. Madden himself is just back to Scotland Yard and still haunted by the loss of his wife and child and his own war experiences. As the investigation broadens, Madden begins to expect that this is no ordinary robbery gone awry but rather the work of a madman who is likely to strike again. The reader is let in on who the killer is so the sus 4.5 stars In post WWI rural England, Inspector John Madden is called on to investigate a particularly grisly crime in which 5 members of a household are murdered. Madden himself is just back to Scotland Yard and still haunted by the loss of his wife and child and his own war experiences. As the investigation broadens, Madden begins to expect that this is no ordinary robbery gone awry but rather the work of a madman who is likely to strike again. The reader is let in on who the killer is so the suspense in the novel doesn't come from finding out "who-done-it" but rather from following the frustrating cat and mouse chase (I found myself silently pleading, "no, don't look there, look here!”). Add to that the detailed picture of England emerging from the war, the social changes as the country moves from the past to a more modern future, and some very engaging characters and you have a near perfect entry in the genre.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    26 DEC 2018 - time for a good mystery! 2 JAN 2019 - a great read. I will come back and write a review but suffice to say I enjoyed this debut in a new-to-me series very much and look forward to reading the remaining novels.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Doug Bradshaw

    In an early comment half way through the book, I had a different outcome planned. It didn't happen, so I take any comparison I made with Guernsey back except that as in Guernsey, there is a lot of time spent helping us understand the pain and suffering caused by war. This book happens right after WW1 in a little town outside of London. Here are some miscellaneous and random comments about the book: 1. This is historical fiction and the setting right after WW1 in approximately 1919. I found the de In an early comment half way through the book, I had a different outcome planned. It didn't happen, so I take any comparison I made with Guernsey back except that as in Guernsey, there is a lot of time spent helping us understand the pain and suffering caused by war. This book happens right after WW1 in a little town outside of London. Here are some miscellaneous and random comments about the book: 1. This is historical fiction and the setting right after WW1 in approximately 1919. I found the descriptions of rural England to be exceptional from the food they ate to the dishes they ate on, the cars they drove (or didn't have) and their clothing. The dialogue the detectives had with one another and the information published in the newspapers about events happening seemed to be correct and accurate. The attitudes of the people regarding sex, psychology, suffering and death were interesting and frustrating to us watching CSI. I haven't studied WW1 for a while and now want to read more about the Trench wars which many of the characters in the book lived through. 2. This is a detective story along with a hot little romance between two fairly mature people. The bad guy is extremely bad in the Jack the Ripper category. There's a lot of normal in-fighting with the Scotland Yard folk about how well the case is being handled (or not) but with that proper British way of thinking and explaining things. The author has done an excellent job of describing the psychology and the case of the once war hero who is now a ruthless murderer. It is both creepy and excellent. The romance lightens up a book that could have been almost too detailed with each of the steps to find our bogey man. 3. Each of the main 5 or 6 characters are well described and interesting. Many additional characters also played an important role along the way. This is not a particularly quick or easy read. To get the full impact of the story and each of the characters, I had to read it word for word and sometimes go back to re-read something to make sure I got it right. I give the author a lot of credit for his careful research and writing of an excellent book. I didn't give it five stars because it didn't quite take me to an emotional state. I didn't shed tears. I just thoroughly enjoyed reading an adult and excellent book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    This was quite a surprise. I read it because someone mooched it and as I paged through the book, I realized that it was a well written post WW I British mystery, which I usually like. Turns out, it's much more than that. It's a psychological thriller rather than a mystery. Early on the reader knows who the killer is. But due to the skill of the author, his personality, motivations, and actions are revealed little by little. The protagonist, Inspector John Madden, is struggling with his own demons This was quite a surprise. I read it because someone mooched it and as I paged through the book, I realized that it was a well written post WW I British mystery, which I usually like. Turns out, it's much more than that. It's a psychological thriller rather than a mystery. Early on the reader knows who the killer is. But due to the skill of the author, his personality, motivations, and actions are revealed little by little. The protagonist, Inspector John Madden, is struggling with his own demons from his time in the trenches, but is able to get past them to figure out what he and his fellow Scotland Yard detectives are facing - a terribly twisted veteran. Even though psychological profiling hadn't even been thought of, Madden consults a Freudian Psychiatrist on the sly to try to understand what he is dealing with. The characters are well drawn and believable. Madden's love interest, Dr. Helen Blackwell, in some ways represents all women who were trying to fight the prejudices of the Victorian Age. She was a delightful relief from the overall darkness of the story. Madden's boss, Chief Inspector Sinclair, is smart enough to trust Madden's insights and defend their approach to the case through the political in-fighting of Scotland Yard exacerbated by the press's wish for more and more information. The descriptions of the village Bobbies are excellent and helped me understand why police in Britain, at least in the countryside, were so admired by the populace. The entire context of the story puts the reader well into the cultural atmosphere of post WW I Britain. That aspect alone would make the book worth reading. The entire story moves swiftly but not so swiftly that we can't get caught up in the suspense of the killer targeting his next victims. The last 100 pages just flew by. I highly recommend this book and plan, personally to read more of Airth's stories.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    The effect of WW I on the survivors continues to provide a reservoir of themes for authors of English detective novels. Charles Todd's (actually a mother-son team) Ian Rutledge, a Scottish detective is one example. Rutledge suffers from guilt-ridden hallucinations. Airth's Inspector John Madden is even gloomier having lost his wife and daughter to the great flu epidemic. Madden is the lead investigator in a series of horrific crimes. In what appears to be an attempted robbery, an entire family ha The effect of WW I on the survivors continues to provide a reservoir of themes for authors of English detective novels. Charles Todd's (actually a mother-son team) Ian Rutledge, a Scottish detective is one example. Rutledge suffers from guilt-ridden hallucinations. Airth's Inspector John Madden is even gloomier having lost his wife and daughter to the great flu epidemic. Madden is the lead investigator in a series of horrific crimes. In what appears to be an attempted robbery, an entire family has been massacred. Madden, following a search of nearby woods, discovers evidence that the family's home had been under observation for a period of time from a dugout that bore unsettling similarities to battlefield trench observation posts. Further evidence leads the police to suspect the work is just one man, a former soldier who kills his victims with a bayonet in the manner taught for use on the battlefield. We experience some of the action through Pike, the killer's point of view, and realize that facing the memories of war and dealing with those traumas often takes a variety of mechanisms as Pike and Madden are contrasted. I hope this is the beginning of a series featuring Inspector Madden.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andy Plonka

    John Madden is quite an interesting character. Just enough baggage to make him human but not so much that one wonders how he can put one foot in front of another without falling down.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    I read this book in a single sitting. The evocative language and tight plot made it a pleasure to read, and the iteresting well-fleshed out characters only deepened the experience. Airth was able to provide a female main character who was more than one note, and for that, alone I would have given it the thumbs up, except that the storyline itself is quite interesting. Set in the English countryside shortly after WWI, the book follows Detective John Madden as he investigates the inexplicable murde I read this book in a single sitting. The evocative language and tight plot made it a pleasure to read, and the iteresting well-fleshed out characters only deepened the experience. Airth was able to provide a female main character who was more than one note, and for that, alone I would have given it the thumbs up, except that the storyline itself is quite interesting. Set in the English countryside shortly after WWI, the book follows Detective John Madden as he investigates the inexplicable murder of an entire family. Since it's set before much of modern CSI the focus is more on real detective work, with small amounts of fingerprinting or similarly lab-focused tactics thrown in. My one complaint about the book is that the murder's identity was exposed a bit too early for my taste, which ramped up the thriller aspect and toned down the mystery, not a balance I prefer. However, if you enjoy a good procedural, and a good psychological thriller, this is definitely for you.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I didn't hate this book. It's a murder mystery set in post WW1. I'll start with the issues I had with it first and because of that, there will be spoilers. There were almost too many police types in the story for me to keep straight. There were a few times I had to think which one was being talked about. Maybe that speaks more to the characters not being written strong enough. The romance, such that it was. Maybe I'm just misunderstanding the times. I know a fair amount of history about the 20's a I didn't hate this book. It's a murder mystery set in post WW1. I'll start with the issues I had with it first and because of that, there will be spoilers. There were almost too many police types in the story for me to keep straight. There were a few times I had to think which one was being talked about. Maybe that speaks more to the characters not being written strong enough. The romance, such that it was. Maybe I'm just misunderstanding the times. I know a fair amount of history about the 20's and the need to change things after such a horrific war. Flappers, etc. I would imagine that people would be inclined to hook-up more quickly. But I didn't buy the romance unfolding as it did. I didn't get the feeling they were "fated" to be together. It just didn't seem believable, at least not in the short of time. I also had the ending pretty well figured. We're told early on who it is, but the sort of twist at the end, didn't even give me pause.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Diane Challenor

    In January 2021 I re-read Rennie Airth’s book River of Darkness (my first read was in 2016). I re-read it because a GoodReads member had commented about it recently, and I couldn’t remember the story. I’m so glad I read it again. It has the pace and style of a mystery but it’s also a “thriller”. I liked the main characters, except of course for the villain, and I enjoyed the back stories, and the backdrop of the English countryside. (This book fits with the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge 2021 Pr In January 2021 I re-read Rennie Airth’s book River of Darkness (my first read was in 2016). I re-read it because a GoodReads member had commented about it recently, and I couldn’t remember the story. I’m so glad I read it again. It has the pace and style of a mystery but it’s also a “thriller”. I liked the main characters, except of course for the villain, and I enjoyed the back stories, and the backdrop of the English countryside. (This book fits with the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge 2021 Prompt 31: Shares a similar title to another book, which is the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    I don't feel the need to read any more of these novels. I like the time period, I like the genre, but something about this book seemed like a modern tale put back in the 20s without reason. It just didn't sit right and when there are so many other books that do that time period better. And it's more suspense than mystery I don't feel the need to read any more of these novels. I like the time period, I like the genre, but something about this book seemed like a modern tale put back in the 20s without reason. It just didn't sit right and when there are so many other books that do that time period better. And it's more suspense than mystery

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I could not put this down. Possibly one of the best written mysteries I'd read in years. I wish he'd write more/faster! I could not put this down. Possibly one of the best written mysteries I'd read in years. I wish he'd write more/faster!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jacqie

    It seems that the post WWI era is becoming a more common setting for mysteries, and this book is a standout example of one set in that time period. John Madden reminds me strongly of Charles Todd's detective character Ian Rutledge. Both men were officers in WWI, suffer from PTSD and embody the English ideal of the restrained, intellectual hero. The book itself is probably more of a thriller than a mystery if you use the definition that in mysteries the reader tries to figure out the identity of t It seems that the post WWI era is becoming a more common setting for mysteries, and this book is a standout example of one set in that time period. John Madden reminds me strongly of Charles Todd's detective character Ian Rutledge. Both men were officers in WWI, suffer from PTSD and embody the English ideal of the restrained, intellectual hero. The book itself is probably more of a thriller than a mystery if you use the definition that in mysteries the reader tries to figure out the identity of the antagonist along with the hero, and thrillers often give away the identity of the antagonist and let the reader go along for the ride of the hero discovering it. We do get several chapters from the viewpoint of the killer, although the genesis of his behavior is not discovered until close to the end of the book. While many of the characters are idealized portrayals of British virtue, I enjoyed them all the same. The damaged but tenacious Madden, the political and yet ethical Sinclair, Billy Styles the young ambitious copper, and certainly Dr. Helen Blackwell, who wants to help heal Madden in several different ways- they are all characters I'd like to spend more time with. The case itself reminded me quite a bit of Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, although before the advent of photography. While I wouldn't call this a short book, I didn't feel that it dragged at all. I'd happily read more of this series.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Avid Series Reader

    River of Darkness by Rennie Airth is the first book of the John Madden mystery series set in post-WWI England. Scotland Yard Detective Inspector John Madden's wife and daughter perished in the pre-Great War flu epidemic, then he suffered years of trench warfare, before returning to police duty. He's sad, tortured, intuitive, intelligent, kind; a good mentor for young Constable Billy Styles. Together they investigate a brutal killing in the (usually) quiet and peaceful countryside. Although Scotl River of Darkness by Rennie Airth is the first book of the John Madden mystery series set in post-WWI England. Scotland Yard Detective Inspector John Madden's wife and daughter perished in the pre-Great War flu epidemic, then he suffered years of trench warfare, before returning to police duty. He's sad, tortured, intuitive, intelligent, kind; a good mentor for young Constable Billy Styles. Together they investigate a brutal killing in the (usually) quiet and peaceful countryside. Although Scotland Yard prefers to assume the crime was the work of a robbery gang, Madden recognizes signs of a military-trained killer. At the site of the murder, Madden meets Helen Blackwell, a woman physician. She is protecting a young child who hid and survived the attack, but will not speak. Madden comes to trust Helen's competence and her instincts, and she his; over the course of the book, their friendship predictably develops into romance. Through Helen, Madden unofficially consults a Viennese psychiatrist to gain insights into the killer's personality, in hope it may provide clues (many decades before modern profiling). The psychiatrist describes a compelling destructive force within the psychopath as a "River of Darkness", one that will inevitably lead to more killings. Madden links the more recent murders to an unsolved case in the past with similar characteristics. He struggles to convince Scotland Yard of a serial killer at work. From tips provided by local residents, Scotland Yard attempts to prevent another attack - but fails. Suspense builds as chapters alternate (thriller style) between the killer preparing for his next attack, and police forces throughout the countryside desperately trying to catch him. Abundant period detail vividly describes those first few years following the Great War - everyone's life had changed, whether they served in the military or not. I look forward to reading more of the series.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mary Robinson

    This was a very intelligent mystery that combined Agatha Christie drawing room mystery elements with a more modern day understanding of the anatomy of a psychotic killer. A detective suffering damages from serving in WWI investigates murder in the English countryside as we see the killer stalking and plotting his next victims. Fine writing, never repetitious or boring; great suspense; and characters I will love meeting again.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is the first in the John Madden trilogy and was the winner of the Grand Prix de Literature Policiere in 2000, as well as being nominated for Edgar, Anthony and Macavity awards. Having learnt that there is to be a fourth book in the series coming out, I thought it would be a good time to go back and re-visit the original trilogy, which I read when they were first published and, although I remember how much I enjoyed them, I can’t really recall many of the details. Set in 1921, the novel begin This is the first in the John Madden trilogy and was the winner of the Grand Prix de Literature Policiere in 2000, as well as being nominated for Edgar, Anthony and Macavity awards. Having learnt that there is to be a fourth book in the series coming out, I thought it would be a good time to go back and re-visit the original trilogy, which I read when they were first published and, although I remember how much I enjoyed them, I can’t really recall many of the details. Set in 1921, the novel begins with an entire family being butchered in a small Surrey village – husband, wife, maid and nanny all viciously killed; as well as a poacher found dead in nearby woods. There is one survivor, the couple’s young daughter, who is found hiding beneath a bed, but she is so shocked she is unable to speak. Detective Inspector John Madden is called in to investigate, aided by young Detective Constable Billy Styles. The family were well respected and liked and the crime seems totally without motive or reason. Madden is an interesting character; having lost his wife and young daughter, he joined the army and spent two years in the trenches. Soon, links are found between the horrific murders and the war. During his investigation, Madden’s enquiries are hampered by outdated methods and resistance to change at Scotland Yard. Yet, when Madden meets local doctor, Helen Blackwell, she not only seems to give him a reason to continue living, but she also introduces him to Dr Weiss, a psychoanalyst, who throws new light into the investigation. A great plot, fantastic characters, lots of twists and turns and a really interesting crime story, make this a novel I am glad I revisited. I look forward to re-reading the whole trilogy before tackling the new book in the series, “The Reckoning.” In order, the original trilogy is: River of Darkness, The Blood-Dimmed Tide and The Dead of Winter.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Terence M

    3.0 out of 5.0 stars. I more or less liked this book in its early stages: set in around 1922, there are no whizz-bang weapons like automatic pistols or rifles, no technology like plentiful nearby phone-boxes or even primitive car radiophones; certainly nothing vaguely resembling a SWAT team, were presented to distract the reader/listener from the murderous activities of a villain who apparently butchered an entire family of four. However, as the narrator droned on, I became less enamoured of pret 3.0 out of 5.0 stars. I more or less liked this book in its early stages: set in around 1922, there are no whizz-bang weapons like automatic pistols or rifles, no technology like plentiful nearby phone-boxes or even primitive car radiophones; certainly nothing vaguely resembling a SWAT team, were presented to distract the reader/listener from the murderous activities of a villain who apparently butchered an entire family of four. However, as the narrator droned on, I became less enamoured of pretty much all the characters and the length of the narrative. I did finish it and decided it was worth 2.5 stars out of 5.0 rounded up to 3.0 because the audio version I listened to was quite well done and lacked the typographical and grammatical errors that were highlighted by reviewers of hardcover and paperback versions of this novel. However it did suffer from lack-of-editing bloat and after about 20% of the story I admit to being guilty of regularly flicking ahead a few pages, or whatever is the equivalent activity on my iPod, to try and maintain an interest in what I hoped would be a worthwhile story. It was OK and I will try the next in the series before I accept or reject all five books in the John Madden series by Rennie Airth.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shonna Froebel

    This mystery set around Scotland Yard detectives is set just after World War I. Inspector Madden is a man who quit the force after his wife and infant daughter died from influenza. Then the war began and he enlisted. After the war, he returned to Scotland Yard at his old rank. Working on the case with him is young Constable Billy Styles, willing to learn but very green. Madden reports into Chief Inspector Sinclair. The case this are dealt is a difficult one. A couple and their two servants have b This mystery set around Scotland Yard detectives is set just after World War I. Inspector Madden is a man who quit the force after his wife and infant daughter died from influenza. Then the war began and he enlisted. After the war, he returned to Scotland Yard at his old rank. Working on the case with him is young Constable Billy Styles, willing to learn but very green. Madden reports into Chief Inspector Sinclair. The case this are dealt is a difficult one. A couple and their two servants have been killed in an apparant botched robbery. The only survivor is a young girl who is found hiding under a bed, not saying a word. While initial thoughts are of a gang attack, Madden is sure that it is only one man. He relies on his war experiences, and his contacts to get to the heart of the matter. Madden is willing to break the rules when it makes sense to do so, but is a man who cares about the victims and the survivors. As it becomes clear this is not a standalone case, the impetus to solve the case quickly to prevent further deaths grows. This is a real page-turner and I thoroughly enjoyed the personalities of the men involved.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joe Stamber

    Engaging mystery/police procedural set a couple of years after the end of World War One. Not only does the time period mean that the police investigating the crime have little technology to help them, but also that many of the characters have been deeply affected by the war in one way or another. Airth makes great use of the era and everything sounded authentic to me. With the characters struggling for resources, having to catch trains to get around and hunt for telephones in remote villages, it Engaging mystery/police procedural set a couple of years after the end of World War One. Not only does the time period mean that the police investigating the crime have little technology to help them, but also that many of the characters have been deeply affected by the war in one way or another. Airth makes great use of the era and everything sounded authentic to me. With the characters struggling for resources, having to catch trains to get around and hunt for telephones in remote villages, it all made the story more fascinating. Although the perpetrator is revealed at a relatively early stage, I found this didn't reduce the tension as it became more of a cat and mouse tale. River of Darkness is written in a clean, easy to read style and was difficult to put down once I'd got into the story. The cast are an interesting collection of characters and the setting was well handled. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical mysteries/police procedurals.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    I seldom give 5 stars to a mystery novel but this one really captured my imagination. Taking place immediately following WWI in which the main character, DI John Madden, was a combatant, the story visits the psychological damage done to the soldiers that survived..... in this case, both the detective and the killer. A series of senseless and gory murders are occurring which have a definite pattern which point to a disturbed man with a military background. But who is it and where will he strike n I seldom give 5 stars to a mystery novel but this one really captured my imagination. Taking place immediately following WWI in which the main character, DI John Madden, was a combatant, the story visits the psychological damage done to the soldiers that survived..... in this case, both the detective and the killer. A series of senseless and gory murders are occurring which have a definite pattern which point to a disturbed man with a military background. But who is it and where will he strike next? The author does not stint on the day-to-day grunt work necessary in the case but keeps it interesting. I found this a fascinating book and am already looking forward to reading the second installment of the John Madden series The Blood-Dimmed Tide. I highly recommend this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Inspector John Madden looks into the vicious killing of an English family soon after the end of World War I. WWI and WWII are not my favorite times to read about. This book was a nice surprise. I liked the character of Madden, silently suffering from PTSD but still excelling at his job. I enjoyed the slow building of the investigation, lots of hard work combined with 'new' methods and forensics - even the involvement of a psychiatrist (shocking!). Seeing some of the plot through the killer's eyes Inspector John Madden looks into the vicious killing of an English family soon after the end of World War I. WWI and WWII are not my favorite times to read about. This book was a nice surprise. I liked the character of Madden, silently suffering from PTSD but still excelling at his job. I enjoyed the slow building of the investigation, lots of hard work combined with 'new' methods and forensics - even the involvement of a psychiatrist (shocking!). Seeing some of the plot through the killer's eyes was effective in this case - getting stuck in his head made the entire thing even creepier because you realized the inevitability of another slaughter. I'll be trying the second in the series.

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