In a second outing, Inspector John Madden (River of Darkness, 1999) chases a sexual predator of children in England as the winds of war begin to blow from Nazi Germany.
Cool-headed and evenhanded Madden is settling into retirement in 1932 and not looking for any more action, but he and his physician wife, Helen, literally drive past a crime scene near their corner of rural England. A young girl has gone missing, and a search is being organized to find her; the old inspector can’t refuse his help. Soon enough, Madden finds the girl’s body, raped and horridly disfigured. After that, much to his wife’s resigned chagrin, he’s destined to follow the investigation to its conclusion, retirement be damned. The first lead quickly comes to naught, but new avenues open up suggesting that there have been other victims in other parts of the country, and as far afield as Germany. Once the international angle kicks in, complete with hints of espionage in Hitler-shadowed Germany, the rough-hewn blocks of story start to snap together with impressive grace. In the beginning, the majority of Airth’s stiff-upper-lipped characters give away little, nor do they have much individuality to help readers tell them apart. After the sloggy opening chapters, though, when the true nature of the author’s intentions come to light, the story builds up a strong head of steam that exerts an inexorable pull. A curiously rare sense of common decency helps make this more than just another mystery with a conveniently dramatic historical setting.
Extremely well-wrought, remarkable for its uncommon understanding that its characters are in the end just human, for better and worse.