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River of Darkness (John Madden, #1)
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River of Darkness (John Madden #1)

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  3,351 ratings  ·  340 reviews
In a quiet and picturesque English countryside where people are still recuperating from the ravages of World War I, the peace of a small Surrey village is shattered by the discovery of a horrifying murder. Five victims; four of them killed with military efficiency and, judging from the wounds, a military bayonet. The fifth victim, the lady of the house, is found nearly nak ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published May 31st 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 1999)
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Community Reviews

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John

Back in the days when I reviewed a lot for the late lamented Infinity Plus and Crescent Blues, I made a point of offering the small-press and even self-published titles the same level playing field as the stuff emanating from the big boys. This meant that, of course, in the pursuit of many undoubted pearls (the entire Akashic list, the stories of C.S. Thompson, etc., etc.), I also had to wade through an exceptional amount of, er, swine. In addition, I had to get used to reading text that was fun
...more
D. Krauss
I should not like this book. It's a police procedural with hardly any mystery to it: you know who the killer is right away, there's a lot of deaus ex machina dropping leads right in Detective John Madden's lap, and things so patently obvious you begin to wonder about the mental capacities of other important characters. But I like it. A lot. You should read it.

Because, this is fin de siècle done right. Not like Downton Abbey, which is treating the world-turned-upside-down of WW1 like some bloody
...more
Mike
Apr 25, 2013 Mike rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone

River of Darkness is a suspenseful murder mystery taking place in post-Great War England. The book is very well written and designed. From the initial, horrific crime to the final plot twist it firmly holds your interest. It will not appeal to those looking for light entertainment, but if you like intricate stories that dig into your soul, then I strongly recommend it.

The title comes from a discussion that the protagonist has with a visiting psychiatrist. The “river of darkness” is the thing, th
...more
Doug Bradshaw
In an early comment half way through the book, I had a different outcome planned. It didn't happen, so I take any comparison I made with Guernsey back except that as in Guernsey, there is a lot of time spent helping us understand the pain and suffering caused by war. This book happens right after WW1 in a little town outside of London. Here are some miscellaneous and random comments about the book:

1. This is historical fiction and the setting right after WW1 in approximately 1919. I found the de
...more
Becky
I read this book in a single sitting. The evocative language and tight plot made it a pleasure to read, and the iteresting well-fleshed out characters only deepened the experience. Airth was able to provide a female main character who was more than one note, and for that, alone I would have given it the thumbs up, except that the storyline itself is quite interesting.

Set in the English countryside shortly after WWI, the book follows Detective John Madden as he investigates the inexplicable murde
...more
Laura Leaney
Jan 13, 2015 Laura Leaney rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Laura by: Good ol' Mom
Boy, what sour lemon awarded this page-turning murder mystery one lonely star? Ridiculous. Apparently this bitter reviewer said his copy had typos all over the place. Well, my copy did not. It's true, this book isn't high art, but it's a very fun read IF you like police procedurals set in rural England, a la Miss Marple. Except, little Miss Marple has been replaced by John Madden, scarred hollow-eyed survivor of the Somme. (Cue: romantic sigh). Okay, so I saw the end coming............but not un ...more
Cheryl
I could not put this down. Possibly one of the best written mysteries I'd read in years. I wish he'd write more/faster!
Lynne
Rennie Airth's first book in the John Madden trilogy was exceptional!

More of a 'Whydunit" than a whodunit, the murderer's identity was revealed early on in the plot by having the narrative at times switch from the voices of the crime fighters with the criminal himself. It was a multi-layered novel with well-rounded characterizations.

The male protagonist is John Madden, a Scotland Yard inspector who is also a veteran of WWI. His personal tragedy of losing his wife and young daughter to influenza
...more
Shonna Froebel
This mystery set around Scotland Yard detectives is set just after World War I. Inspector Madden is a man who quit the force after his wife and infant daughter died from influenza. Then the war began and he enlisted. After the war, he returned to Scotland Yard at his old rank. Working on the case with him is young Constable Billy Styles, willing to learn but very green. Madden reports into Chief Inspector Sinclair.
The case this are dealt is a difficult one. A couple and their two servants have b
...more
Ed
Aug 19, 2009 Ed rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Mystery and Psychological Thriller Fans
This was quite a surprise. I read it because someone mooched it and as I paged through the book, I realized that it was a well written post WW I British mystery, which I usually like. Turns out, it's much more than that.

It's a psychological thriller rather than a mystery. Early on the reader knows who the killer is. But due to the skill of the author, his personality, motivations, and actions are revealed little by little.

The protagonist, Inspector John Madden, is struggling with his own demons
...more
Margaret
I don't feel the need to read any more of these novels. I like the time period, I like the genre, but something about this book seemed like a modern tale put back in the 20s without reason. It just didn't sit right and when there are so many other books that do that time period better. And it's more suspense than mystery
Laurie
Good crime fiction and an eloquent description of the period between the wars.
Susan
This is the first in the John Madden trilogy and was the winner of the Grand Prix de Literature Policiere in 2000, as well as being nominated for Edgar, Anthony and Macavity awards. Having learnt that there is to be a fourth book in the series coming out, I thought it would be a good time to go back and re-visit the original trilogy, which I read when they were first published and, although I remember how much I enjoyed them, I can’t really recall many of the details.

Set in 1921, the novel begin
...more
Joe Stamber
Engaging mystery/police procedural set a couple of years after the end of World War One. Not only does the time period mean that the police investigating the crime have little technology to help them, but also that many of the characters have been deeply affected by the war in one way or another.

Airth makes great use of the era and everything sounded authentic to me. With the characters struggling for resources, having to catch trains to get around and hunt for telephones in remote villages, it
...more
Joyce Lagow
Scotland Yard has sent Inspector John Madden along with Constable Billy Stiles to take charge of an investigation into the brutal slaughter of a family in a small town in Surrey. The local police have decided that the case is a robbery gone wrong but Madden, a veteran of the World War I trenches (the time is 1921), suspects that the killer may be a former soldier who has used a bayonet to commit the murders. But another, similar massacre convinces Madden that a serial killer, whose underlying mo ...more
Booknblues
Rennie Airth first novel River of Darkness is set in post WWI England. A time and place which in many ways parallels post Vietnam America. A rapidly changing society that the veterans of war have to come to terms with, while battling their own personal ghosts of war. Airth does well in describing some of these changes and personal battles.

As other people have mentioned this book also bears striking resemblance to Charles Todd's Inspector Ian Rutledge books. I fould Airth's John Madden to be less
...more
Susanne E
Like a badly-written masculine version of Maisie Dobbs - masculine in the sense of male protagonist as well as just annoyingly macho male characters (the female characters are limited to having sex, being murdered or deciding not to cut their glorious hair into newfangled bobs). Like Maisie Dobbs, Madden dabbles in new psychological methods to catch the killer, but unlike in Winspear's series, the psychological insights are basically all "Freud! Sexuality! Perversion! Our killer must be a sexual ...more
Tony
RIVER OF DARKNESS. (1999). Rennie Airth. ****.
The author was born in South Africa and worked for most of his career as a journalist for Reuters. He now lives in Italy, where he continues to write in the mystery/suspense genre. This novel was the first of his to feature Inspector Madden of Scotland Yard as his main character. There have been others since this one, though this novel was the only one to win an Edgar Award for best novel in 2000. The time of this novel is in the early 1920s, and rem
...more
Shirley Schwartz
Thank heavens for my Secret Santa on LibraryThing. It was because of her thoughtful gift that I got a copy of this novel, and it was because I was so backed up with my reading that I haven't gotten around to the books that were chosen for me until now. If I had known what I had here, I would have read it before the end of 2014. This is one of the best crime stories that I've ever read. The setting is rural England and it is just after The Great War. We are introduced to Inspector Madden, who is ...more
Deb
A great read! It's just after the end of WWI. Inspector John Madden of Scotland Yard is investigating the gruesome murder of a prominent family. As the investigation unfolds, it appears that the murders are the work of a serial killer. The story takes an unexpected twist or two, along the way. I really liked this one. In some ways it reminded me of the Inspector Rutledge series, at least in terms of setting, plot, and character. Both protagonists have been damaged by their war experiences, and b ...more
Eric_W
The effect of WW I on the survivors continues to provide a reservoir of themes for authors of English detective novels. Charles Todd's (actually a mother-son team) Ian Rutledge, a Scottish detective is one example. Rutledge suffers from guilt-ridden hallucinations.

Airth's Inspector John Madden is even gloomier having lost his wife and daughter to the great flu epidemic. Madden is the lead investigator in a series of horrific crimes. In what appears to be an attempted robbery, an entire family ha
...more
Dorie
After losing his wife and child to influenza, Inspector John Madden joined the service and lived through the horrors of WWI. He's now resumed his job with Scotland Yard and is sent to investigate the murder of an entire family in Surrey. There are items missing from the home, so it is initially judged as a robbery gone wrong, but John quickly sees through the surface and realizes the intent of the intruder was murder from the beginning. When he discovers the injuries were caused by a bayonet, th ...more
Paula
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tan The Man
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Maddy
Men who have been to war can never be the same when they return to their former life. They've witnessed unspeakable horrors that occur with enough frequency to make them mundane. How they recover from these experiences varies with each individual. In the case of Inspector John Madden, he is haunted by what occurred on the battlefield; but he's come back to a life as a police investigator at Scotland Yard and ultimately uses his background for the greater good. On the other hand, a person of less ...more
Cheryl
I didn't hate this book. It's a murder mystery set in post WW1. I'll start with the issues I had with it first and because of that, there will be spoilers.

There were almost too many police types in the story for me to keep straight. There were a few times I had to think which one was being talked about. Maybe that speaks more to the characters not being written strong enough.

The romance, such that it was. Maybe I'm just misunderstanding the times. I know a fair amount of history about the 20's a
...more
Cooper Renner
A very fine mystery/police procedural: maybe even 5 stars. One aspect of the book which I do not like--though it's an aspect Airth handles very well--is the chapters which take the reader into the life of the murderer himself and away from the police and victims. I generally dislike that sort of thing--the detailing of the murderer's mindset and preparations, etc. One reason certainly is philosophical: I don't like being asked, in a way, to "sympathize" with the killer. another reason is more pr ...more
Karen
Dark, suspenseful. The author makes an interesting choice to let the reader know who the bad guy is fairly early on in the story. The suspense comes from wondering whether the good guy(s) will catch him and who will be the next victim.

Good characters, although rather more than I like to keep up with when reading the first book in a series. I personally could have done without certain depictions of "intimate" scenes, but otherwise I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this book and had trouble p
...more
Nancy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lily
This is one of the few books I have put down- usually once I start a book I liked to finish it even if it isn't the greatest. But with so many good books to read and so little time, if the book doesn't grab me after 100 pages I move on.

Here, I didn't get further than 75 pages. I was bored- the story never grabbed me, it seemed predictable, and the main character Madden was so ho-hum. I'm shocked that this book has gotten so many good reviews, I was greatly disappointed and won't be rushing to re
...more
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Rennie Airth was born in South Africa and has worked as a foreign correspondent for Reuters. The first novel in his John Madden trilogy, River of Darkness, was published in 1999 to huge critical acclaim, was shortlisted for four crime fiction awards and won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France. The sensational sequel was The Blood-Dimmed Tide, and The Dead of Winter forms the final pa ...more
More about Rennie Airth...

Other Books in the Series

John Madden (4 books)
  • The Blood-Dimmed Tide (John Madden, #2)
  • The Dead of Winter (John Madden, #3)
  • The Reckoning
The Blood-Dimmed Tide (John Madden, #2) The Dead of Winter (John Madden, #3) The Reckoning Snatch! Once A Spy

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