About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"A" is for Rennie Airth

The 2012 Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme has started at Kerrie Smith’s blog, Mysteries in Paradise. Last year I joined the meme some letters into the alphabet. For 2012 I join 17 other participants in the meme at “A”. My goal is to go through the alphabet providing profiles of authors I have read during the past 13 years.
To start the alphabet, “A” is for Rennie Airth, a South African born author, who gained immediate fame in 1999 for publishing River of Darkness, the first in the John Madden trilogy.

Airth was born in South Africa in 1935 and educated there. He currently resides in Cortona, Italy.

Airth was a journalist working for the Johannesburg Star and then Reuters. For the latter he was a foreign correspondent stationed in such places as Havana, Washington and Saigon.

Prior to turning to the Madden books he wrote Snatch in 1969 and Once a Spy in 1981.

In the Mystery Readers Journal on London Mysteries II from 2011 Airth contributed an article A Profile in History. It is an excellent article. He explains the origins of Madden:

The idea of embarking on the Madden series came some years ago from an idle thought: how would the police have dealt with the problem posed by serial killers before they were recognized as such—before the very concept of forensic psychology had been developed? By chance, at around the same time I happened to be going through some old family albums and came across a scrapbook kept by my paternal grand-parents in memory of their elder son who was killed in the First World War. Paging through it I discovered something I hadn't known before: that the telegram they had received advising them of his death had arrived the same week as another from the War Office informing them that their second son, my father, who like his brother was an officer in the British army, was missing. Luckily he proved to have been captured, but I was struck by how appalling these twin blows must have been to them at the time and from that point on I began to read more about that terrible conflict and the scars it left on society. These two trains of thought came together and eventually led to the first of the Madden books, River of Darkness, in which the psychological damage inflicted on both protagonists, hunter and hunted, by their experiences in the trenches plays a major part in the story.

About Madden’s character he states:

Madden is one of the few to understand the dire message of the carnage inflicted in the trenches. That now we truly know ourselves and the world will never be the same.

River of Darkness was nominated for the Edgar Award in the US, the Historical Dagger award in Britain and won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France.

I read River of Darkness in 2000. My note of that time describes it as “a 1921 English mystery featuring traumatized war veteran, Inspector Madden, pursuing a murderous rural psychopath”. I was powerfully moved by the book. It was my favourite work of fiction that year becoming the first fiction winner of my annual “Bill’s Best of -----“.

I read the second in the trilogy, The Blood Dimmed Tide, in 2004. It is set during the Depression 11 years after River of Darkness. Madden is again in pursuit of a psychopathic killer. I was not as excited about the book. My conclusion was “Good. Alittle disappointing as the opening novel was great.”

I have not read the third book The Dead of Winter.

Out of the series of post World War I mysteries I have read (the Madden books, Ian Rutledge in the Charles Todd series, Bess Crawford in another Charles Todd series and Maisie Dobbs in the Jacqueline Winspear series) I consider River of Darkness the best. It is a remarkable book.


  1. Bill - Thanks for this really interesting profile! I didn't know that he'd been a foreign correspondent, nor that his own family history has figured into his Madden mysteries. He seems a really fascinating person.

  2. I've been to Melfort. Cute little town.

    Thanks for recommending this series...well, the first of it anyways. Can't wait to follow your posts.

  3. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I had not known about his life until I did research for the post. His own life sounds very interesting.

  4. Clarissa: Thanks for the comment. I hope you will come again to Melfort. I am confident you would enjoy River of Darkness.

  5. Bill thanks for bringing this "new to me" author" to my attention.

  6. Sounds really great Bill - this is also a new author for me. I don't know how, but I really want to make time for this author too. Thanks very much.


  7. I think you might have his year of birth wrong Bill. Try 1935

  8. I have all three of these but have only read the first. It was gripping and fast moving. The lead character reminded me of Rutledge in the books of Charles Todd. But by the time I found the other two books (I tend to buy used copies of all my books these days) I had grown weary of serial killer books and they're just sitting in a box now.

  9. Jose Ignacio: Thanks for the comment. I hope you get a chance to read him.

  10. Sergio: Thanks for the comment. I hope you can find some time to read River of Darkness. I believe you will appreciate the book.

  11. Kerrie: Thanks for the comment. You are right. I missed the error when proofreading. He was born in 1935.

  12. John: Thanks for the comment. I agree that Rutledge reminds a reader of Madden. I wonder if someone has compiled a list of fictional serial killers. I am sure it is far longer than the same list would be of real life serial killers.

  13. First time visitor, Bill! I found you on Mysteries in Paradise. I just got my first Charles Todd book and now I have Rennie to look for. Mysteries are my favorite too and I think I'll be stopping by often.

  14. Peggy Ann, Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. River of Darkness is well worth reading. I went by your blog and found your post for "A" on Academic Mysteries interesting. I hope you come by the blog again.

  15. Another author I'm learning about for the first time in this meme.

  16. J.L.: Thanks for the comment. I hope you get a chance to read Rennie.