Wednesday, February 04, 2015

What we're reading: World War I Mystery

In The Reckoning, by Rennie Airth, two murders take place, months and miles apart--a Scottish doctor and an English bank manager--but it turns out they were shot in a similar manner and with the same gun. What's the connection? When a third murder follows, Detective Inspector Billy Styles seeks out his old mentor, John Madden, to help him puzzle it out before this spree continues.

Rennie Airth is such a smart mystery writer. This was yet another set in the aftermath of World War II but dealing with the lingering effects of World War I on its characters. It all revolves around something that happened during that first war, and John Madden, Airth's retired Scotland Yard officer who is now a farmer in the countryside, is once again drawn back into active involvement with a case, based on his knowledge of that incident.

Airth has done what I hoped and predicted in a previous review, when I finished the third of his three books about John Madden: He has continued the franchise by giving a more active role to Billy Sykes, Madden's trainee, and Lily Poole, who was brought on board by Madden's former boss, Angus Sinclair, despite the feeling of many in the department that detective inspector was not a role a woman should play. (Remember that this takes place in the late 1940s!) Perhaps the next book will simply consist of a case for Sykes and Poole and no longer reference Madden. But in this one, he ends up playing rather a large part.

The thing I liked about this was that you knew who the murderer must be early on in the book--before you were halfway through, and probably before the characters themselves had really figured it out--but it didn't matter, because in Airth's books it's not about the big reveal of whodunnit, but rather more about what triggered it, the psychology behind it, why the killer did what he or she did, and how it relates to the central characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, beginning to end, and look forward to his next; unfortunately, he's not a rapid or prolific writer, so it may be a while!

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