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