Friday, May 26, 2017

Review of The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth (Pan, 2009)

Autumn, 1944, London. A young Polish woman is murdered while on the way to visit her aunt. She had been working on a farm owned by former Scotland Yard detective, John Madden. His old colleagues discover that the woman was slayed quickly and efficiently by a skilled killer. They pick up a hopeful lead, but then a second murder occurs. Already interested in the case, Madden starts to an active role in trying to determine why Rosa was killed and to identify and catch the murderer. However, it’s apparent that the killer’s modus operandi is to depose of anyone who can potential identify him.

The Dead of Winter is the third in the John Madden series, each set in a particular decade, this one in war-time London.  Madden has left long left his job as a Scotland Yard detective and is now running a farm.  When a Polish woman working for him is murdered in London he aids his former colleagues try to apprehend a ruthless killer.  The story is a relatively straightforward serial killer police procedural, where the murderer is a killer for hire whose signature is to murder all potential witnesses to his identity. That’s not a spoiler in that it is clear from the start that’s this is the case. In this sense there is little mystery in the story, it is all about the crime and the procedural elements. These are relatively straightforward, with Madden unearthing and tracking clues. The characterisation is the strongest element of the story, with Madden, his old colleagues, WPC Lily Poole and a number of incidental characters well-drawn. On the downside is a lot of unnecessary exposition, the removal of any mystery (the reader knows the reason for the murder pretty much from the prologue and finds out the identity of the killer way before the end), and a plot that doesn’t quite make sense when pressed with respect to the actions of the killer. Eliminating the prologue would have made the story more interesting and was entirely unnecessary in my view. The result is a rather staid and underwhelming tale.

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