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The Blood-Dimmed Tide by Rennie Airth

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The Blood-Dimmed Tide by Rennie Airth

I don’t generally start a mystery series in the middle – but, needing a mystery to cleanse the literary palate after reading a more serious novel I thought I’d try The Blood-Dimmed Tide by Rennie Airth. I wasn’t far into it when I realized the story kept referring to an earlier incident, and I knew there must have been a book before the one I was reading. I discovered that I was reading the second in a series, published in 2004, and that River of Darkness, the first, has been published in 1999.

But, having read only a few pages, I was already hooked and reluctant to put this novel aside. I will now go back and read the first – and then the third, The Dead of Winter, published in 2009.

The Globe & Mail Books section editor, Martin Levin, reviewed the latest in the series, in July 2009. He writes “Rennie Airth kept readers waiting for five years for his latest John Madden novel. The best detective-fiction novelist you never heard of doesn't fail to deliver.” He goes on, “When that novel appeared, in 1999, neither I, nor our redoubtable crime fiction columnist, Margaret Cannon, had so much as heard of Airth. Yet that work hit me (her too) like a slap on the head in a dark alley. And it remains one of the finest detective novels I've ever read.” Having read only the second I am, now, even more anxious to read the first.

John Madden is our detective. In The Blood-Dimmed Tide Madden has retired to the country after a career with Scotland Yard. It appears that his last case was one in which he came close to losing his life. His wife, Helen, the local doctor, is very protective of her husband. And Madden is indeed very happy with his life as a country squire and father of two young children, Lucy and Robert.

This novel begins with John Madden happening upon the scene of a crime - the murder and brutal battering of a young girl. It is too close to home geographically – and personally. The murder was one of the most brutal he has ever seen, and the victim all to close in age to his own daughter. He is drawn into the case in spite of his own misgivings – and certainly against the wishes of his wife.

This all takes place in the final years of peace before the Second World War. It is discovered that the criminal may be a serial killer, and may have worked in Germany before coming to England. When a police inspector from Germany comes to consult with Scotland Yard there is much speculation about the rising power of the Nazi Party. John Madden, and many of the other characters in this novel, fought in the First World War and have come home not unaffected by their experiences. No one is looking forward to another war.

As always, when reviewing a mystery, it is a challenge to tell you enough to encourage you to read the novel – and yet resist saying too much and spoiling the suspense of the story.

Born in 1935 in South Africa, Rennie Airth worked as a foreign correspondent for the Reuters news service, and now lives in Cortona, Italy. Airth found inspiration for The River of Darkness, and the character of John Madden in a scrapbook about his uncle, a soldier killed in World War I. This novel won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for best international crime novel in 2000, and was nominated for several other mystery novel awards.

Rennie Airth may not be as well known as he should be, but after reading only one of his novels I will certainly read the rest – and recommend him to other readers.

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