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THE DEAD OF WINTER by Rennie Airth: Book Review

It’s difficult for an author to write a trilogy featuring a former police detective that goes from just after World War I to the middle of World War II and make it believable. After all, the question facing authors as to whether or not to have their characters age is a hard one.  But in the third book in this series featuring former Scotland Yard inspector John Madden, Rennie Airth shows that it can be done, and done convincingly.

The Dead of Winter opens with a prologue. It’s 1940 in Paris, and Maurice Sobel, a French Jew, is getting ready to leave his country, one step ahead of the invading Nazis. His wife and sons have already reached America, but Sobel wants and needs to close his business and bring some capital with him to the United States.  He converts the money he receives for his business into easy-to-carry diamonds he purchased from a Dutch dealer working in Paris.

Two nights before his planned leave-taking he receives a phone call from a friend who knows that Sobel is getting ready to leave France, asking if he would be willing to take two Polish refugees along with him to Portugal.  Sobel agrees, and on the night he receives the diamonds and is doing last-minute preparations prior to departure, he hears his doorbell ring.  Sobel opens the door, expecting to see his traveling companions, and it is the last thing he does.  His throat is encircled by a thin wire, and Sobel drops to the floor, dead.

Now it’s November 1944, and the war has been going on for more than five years in Europe. Men too old to fight have been given jobs on the Home Front.  One of these air wardens, whose job it is to see that the blackout in London is strictly observed, is walking his beat when he sees a young woman in front of him carrying a basket and a bundle.  She seems apprehensive but refuses his offer to walk with her and help her carry the items, saying her destination is just around the corner.  When he turns that same corner less than a minute later, he stumbles over her; her slight body is twisted, and she has a broken neck.

Scotland Yard is almost ready to call the murder one of the too-frequent acts of violence that have come to the city since the beginning of the war.  The only reason the Yard hesitates is that the girl, Rosa Nowak, is identified as a land girl, a farm helper, who is working for former Inspector John Madden of the Yard.

Rosa came to England as a refugee, having lost her parents and siblings to the Nazis, and her quiet demeanor and inexpressible sadness had touched Madden’s family.  Madden wants to make certain that Scotland Yard is doing all it can to find her killer.  When a prostitute comes forward several days later to say she may have seen the man who killed Rosa, the police are anxious to get a complete description of the man.  But before they can call her in for a second interview, her landlady calls the Yard to tell them that she has been killed, garrotted.

Other murders follow, and Scotland Yard fears it has a paid assassin on its hands, perhaps the first that the country has seen.

Rennie Airth’s trilogy seamlessly takes the reader from World War I England to World War II England.   Years have gone by, but John Madden is as interesting a character as he was in the first novel.

You can read more about Rennie Airth at his web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

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