Monday, May 30, 2005

River of Darkness, Rennie Airth

One of the things I'd like to use this blog for is to recommend books that I've enjoyed. Don't expect to always see the newest and hottest books discussed. What I pull from the TBR pile is influnced by a number of factors, including the phases of the moon. I'm sometimes interested in the Next Big Thing, but not always.

And, unless a book is so particularly loathsome that I feel duty bound to warn the public as one would warn them of a virulent strain of botulism, I'll probably stick to books I like and leave out the ones I threw across the room in disgust. Mostly.

So, on to River of Darkness by Rennie Airth, a book I bought new on the recommendation of Michael at Kate's Mystery books in Boston. Thanks, Michael.

The serial killer genre has been, you should pardon the expression, done to death in recent years. Every other book seems to be about twisted creeps with awful pasts doing people in in nasty ways, while being pursued by brilliant detectives and/or psychologists who will catch the monster if they can just figure out the theme that binds the bizarre and gory crimes together. It's a tough genre to keep fresh.

River of Darkness has a lot of the stock elements: The Investigator who's Seen Too Much; The Eager Young Constable who follows him about; The Profiler Who Explains the Criminal's Mind; and of course, the Villain himself, who kills from a compulsion born out of his twisted past. Yet Rennie Airth is a gifted enough writer that he manages to keep you turning the pages.

The book is set in England shortly after World War One, and Airth renders the atmosphere of that place and time beautifully. He makes you feel the melancholy caused by the horrendous losses of the war and the effect that those losses had on the psyches of the people who survived, particularly Inspector John Madden, a veteran of the trenches trying to shake off the nightmares. But Airth also shows the slowly dawning atmosphere of hope after the end of the "War to End War," a hope made all the more poignant because the reader knows of the even greater horrors over the horizon.

It's a great book, and I recommend it. I understand that The Blood Dimmed Tide, the second Madden novel, is coming soon. I'll definitely be lookng for it.

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