Dead of Winter

I fell in love with Rennie Airth’s writing when I read River of Darkness, which was such a dark, clever story that I began to recommend it to library patrons constantly. The horrifyingly good writing continued in The Blood-Dimmed Tide and now returns in Dead of Winter, which picks up the story of John Madden 20 years after we  got to know him in Airth’s first book.

Old friends abound in Dead of Winter – Madden, his engaging wife Helen (who I always picture as Helen Mirren for some reason…), and his old cronies from the Yard, Angus Sinclair and Billy Styles. Madden has been retired and enjoying life as a farmer for two decades, when he is pulled back into the world of murder and mayhem by the murder of his “land girl,” Rosa Nowak.

Rosa, a Polish refugee who narrowly escaped the Nazi occupation and certain death, is found brutally murdered in a London alley while on the way to visit her only remaining relative, an aunt. The murder lands in the laps of Angus Sinclair and Billy Styles, who are stymied by the randomness and brutality of the murder. Once they discover the girl’s relationship to Madden, his involvement in the crime becomes inevitable, leading up to a tense and well-laid climax.

Airth’s writing is, as usual, eloquent and evocative without being overbearing. His treatment of the aging detectives and the changing face of London at the end of World War II is poignant — you can feel the tiredness and dejection of these men and women left to keep peace on the home front in the midst of aerial bomb attacks.

There are some new characters here who I hope Airth plans to write about again, especially Lily Poole, a female street cop who was first on the scene of Rosa Nowak’s murder. Poole gets pulled into the detective work required to track down the slippery killer and earns the admiration and respect of the brass with her plucky, clever ways.

The plot unfolds at a somewhat gentle pace, which some might find predictable and boring but which totally appeals to me. I had time to think about what was going to happen next and didn’t feel the urgency some mysteries evoke that makes me want to read the end first. Dead of Winter is a treat to be savored slowly. You’ll be glad you did.

Highly recommended.

Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth. Viking, 2009. ISBN: 0670020931

Haunt Me Still

Haunt Me Still, the second Kate Stanley novel from Jennifer Lee Carrell, finds the Shakespearean stage director entwined in dark mystery surrounding the Scottish Play. Summoned to Dunsinnan by former Shakespearean actress Janet Douglas, Kate is asked to help unravel the circumstances surrounding the mysterious death of the Lord of the Manor, who was tracking down a reportedly fabulous addition to his Macbeth collection, a legendary “first draft” of the play containing a detailed description of a forbidden ritual. All manner of dark arts are unleashed throughout the story, leading up to a hair rasing climax in a remote Scottish castle.

There are plenty of witches here, both old and new, as well as a  hefty dose of theatre history…all wound together in a tight and riveting plot. Carrell again tells two stories in time shift mode — Kate’s story in the 21st century, and Elizabeth Stewart, Lady Arran’s story in the 17th century.   Both stories meld into one another throughout, and this time, the dual stories work a little better, primarily because there are fewer characters in here than in Interred With Their Bones.

Carrell has continued to flesh out the character of Kate Stanley and I am anxious to see where she goes next. The plot here is unusual, well-researched and exciting, although there are a couple of predictable and pat scenes. Finding the lost manuscript in a convent-turned-university in New York State is stretching it a little, as is the gory sacrifice scene in the British Museum.

Even so, this is a solid read and a successful addition to what I hope will become a well-established character series. Also, there is a killer book trailer on Amazon — check it out.  Makes me hope this becomes a film.