Rennie Airth’s first novel featuring Scotland Yard detective John Madden,River of Darkness, grabbed me by the throat in the first chapter and never let go. I’ve been a fan of the series ever since. The Death of Kings is the 5th Madden book, and confirms what I began to suspect by the 4th book: Airth’s intricate, suspenseful, brain-crushing storytelling has followed an arc from edgy-detective-damaged-in-the-Great-War to retired-detective-turned-farmer-and-doting-father.
The story here is, in turns, interesting and deadly dull. Madden is roped into quietly investigating an 11-year-old murder of a lovely young “actress” who suffered an untimely death on the estate of Black Jack Jessup. At the time, the murder was quickly solved when an itinerant hop-picker confessed to the crime and was executed for it. Now, new evidence has shown up but not enough to warrant an official re-opening of the investigation. Madden begins the tedious process of tracking down the people who were present that fateful weekend, and quickly realizes that there was much more going on than the police realized.
Airth does his usual skillful job bringing some colorful and appealing characters to life. In this case, Adele Castleton and Richard Jessup are the best drawn of the bunch. By the end of the story, I wanted to know these people, and Airth succeeded in surprising me yet again with the final resolution. Madden’s daughter gets more page time here as well, and she is also becoming a more interesting character.
While the plot kept my attention and the characters appealed, over all the story was sleepy and sometimes boring. Quite frankly, I’m bored with John Madden. If I had Rennie Airth’s ear, I would ask him to please drop John and Helen Madden down to peripheral characters and start writing about Lily Poole, the female Scotland Yard detective who Madden has mentored, and Lucy Madden. I envision a kickass series featuring Lily and Lucy. What a way to invigorate a tired series!
Overall, this will appeal to fans of the author, but my go-to recommendation for the series is still River of Darkness.