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River of Darkness (John Madden #1)

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  4,505 Ratings  ·  442 Reviews
Upon its original publication, River of Darkness awed readers who look for intelligent, well-plotted psychological mysteries. This fine, frightening piece of work (Kirkus Reviews) introduces inspector John Madden who, in the years following World War I, is sent to a small village to investigate a particularly gruesome attack. The local police dismiss the slaughter as a bot ...more
ebook, 448 pages
Published May 31st 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 1999)
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Community Reviews

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Jan 31, 2010 John rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

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
May 18, 2009 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
D. Krauss
Apr 28, 2013 D. Krauss rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
The first 25% of this book that takes place in 1920's England was agonizing for me! Agonizingly slow, perhaps too tame and a reminder that "police procedural" is my least favorite type of murder mystery. I wasn't sure that I would finish it, but it slowly drew me in. I especially liked the interplay between the Scotland Yard folks and between Scotland Yard and the inspectors/constables out in "the counties" where the murders take place. The narrator of the audio, Christopher Kay, was excellent e ...more
Laura Leaney
Jan 02, 2015 Laura Leaney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lese lust
Apr 06, 2017 Lese lust rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: krimi, 2017
Solider historischer Polizeikrimi mit recht gemächlichem Tempo (und auch noch der einen oder anderen zusätzlichen Schwäche).
Habe ich aber sehr gerne gelesen und werde mir auch die anderen der Reihe mal ansehen.
Doug Bradshaw
Mar 26, 2011 Doug Bradshaw rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 12, 2009 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 13, 2009 Laurie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good crime fiction and an eloquent description of the period between the wars.
Apr 11, 2009 Eric_W rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 08, 2011 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 26, 2009 Margaret rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 22, 2008 Cheryl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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!
Nov 03, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thrillers
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
May 29, 2014 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Shonna Froebel
Nov 27, 2012 Shonna Froebel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Joe Stamber
May 28, 2013 Joe Stamber rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: paper, read-2013
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
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
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
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
Jan 18, 2016 Beverly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book in spite of the fact that it was dark and kept me on the edge of my seat reading it. I had a bit of trouble settling into it but once it grabbed me, it would not let go. Inspector John Madden is called in to help investigate a particularly gruesome set of murders. All the people in the household have been killed with the exception of a small girl who was found hiding under a bed totally traumatized. The dead were all stabbed, one lethal wound, except for the lady of the house w ...more
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
Susanne E
May 03, 2012 Susanne E rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 18, 2015 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Okay, I debated, but had to give this book five stars. It is such a great mystery/detective book. I picked up the next one in the series yesterday from the library. Can't wait to get to it! The story takes place in (mostly) rural England right after WWI. John Madden has returned from the war with many of the horrors of the war reoccurring in his dreams. But he is a great detective and has the backing of his superior to pursue this case. The writing is very good. Though I've never been to England ...more
Aug 27, 2010 Jeri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding! An interesting setting (post WWI-England), a mysterious killing that begins to look like a serial killing (long before that term was used), and an investigation that brings in the earliest forms of psychological profiling... it all kept me fascinated. As interesting as the story was, I was most impressed by the characterization, particularly of the main investigator, a war veteran who begins the novel still very damaged by his war experience but who begins to come to life again duri ...more
Aug 15, 2007 CLM rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, wwi, 20th-century
This post WWI mystery has a lot in common with Charles Todd's series; however, I found it more dimensional and found the characters of greater interest. I am always fascinated by those who served in WWI and how those who returned were able to adjust to life in England after the Great War.
Tan The Man
Apr 21, 2011 Tan The Man rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mar 14, 2017 Art rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This NY Times Notable Book of 2000 somehow remained under my radar for too long!

Scotland Yard inspector john Madden lost his wife and child to influenza and then was seriously injured during World War One. Now he has returned home after the war. And he and England are trying to find themselves.

Madden, still struggling, is assigned to investigate the murders of a family in a small rural village.

The writing, the mood, the pace are incredible. You can feel the fog's moisture as Madden tries to cap
John Madden is a Scotland Yard detective recently returned from serving in France during WWI. He is sent to a village where a family was slaughtered in their home, except for the little girl who had been hiding. There he meets Dr. Helen Blackwell, with whom he has a torrid affair, and begins to heal from the war and the loss of his wife and baby. He proves himself to be a capable detective, and a character I would like to know more about.
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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 (5 books)
  • The Blood-Dimmed Tide (John Madden, #2)
  • The Dead of Winter (John Madden, #3)
  • The Reckoning (John Madden, #4)
  • The Death of Kings (John Madden, #5)

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