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.