Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Dead of Winter

This book was a disappointment. The rugged, vigorous language I loved in the earlier Rennie Airth books was still here in parts, particularly in the descriptions of the English countryside. But the dark, brooding menace of his earlier books -- River of Darkness and Blood-Dimmed Tide -- was barely present here.

One of the reasons was the curious absence of John Madden, whose trouble psyche added such resonance to the psychologically disturbed criminals he was chasing in the earlier books. Why Airth or his editor thought it would be a good idea to set this book more than 20 years later, and make Madden merely one player in an ensemble cast baffles me.

Oddly, Detective Inspector Angus Sinclair has as big a role in this book as Madden, and he is a consummately colorless individual. He is little more than a spouter of dialogue and an admirer of Madden's way too flawless wife, with a feeling that is more cloying than creepy. His dialogues with his superior, Bennett, are totally flat and seem interminable as the plot advances at a snail's pace through their insipid dialogue.

Airth has clearly set the stage for Lily Poole to take over the baton in the next book. Perhaps she will be entertaining on center stage. But Airth has lost his distinctiveness by consigning Madden's darkness to history.

The plot itself, if you're willing to stick with the plodding development, has a couple of nice twists. The ending has its drama and suspense but is remarkably similar to the endings in the other two books.

Sadly, it seems that Airth, who relaunched his literary career with River of Darkness, has run out of imagination. I can't recommend this book, though I would still urge people to read at least River of Darkness.

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