Friday, October 23, 2009


In May 1940 Jewish furrier Maurice Sobel is preparing to leave Paris before the advancing German Army reaches the city. He has converted his money into diamonds, and agreed to take two young refugees with him on the long journey to Spain, but when he answers the door expecting his traveling companions he is attacked and murdered.

Four years later during the blackout in London a young Polish girl, Rosa Nowak, is killed. The police with their resources stretched due to wartime conditions can find no reason for the killing of an innocent refugee. But when Florrie Desmoulin's, a French prostitute who saw the killer, is garroted the police realise they are dealing with an expert assassin.
Rosa Nowak was working on the farm of retired former police inspector John Madden and because he feels personally responsible he is drawn into the investigation to work with his old colleagues Angus Sinclair and Billy Styles.
They begin to collect clues from London and war-torn Europe in a battle to catch a killer who always seems to be one step ahead of them.

The author 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 won the Grand Prix de Literature Policiere in France and was shortlisted for four crime fiction awards.
The Dead of Winter is the final novel in the John Madden trilogy, and the final novel of the Ellis Peters shortlist that I have read.

This novel was very hard going and frankly it was very disappointing. Perhaps it was my fault because I had read these historical crime fiction novels one after the other. The Dead of Winter was probably one too many books about the same period of history although this was not the only reason.

The CWA Ellis Peters shortlist consisted of four Second World War books, three of which were set mostly in London during the years 1940-1944. I cannot believe that there were not some other worthy books set in different historical periods that could have been nominated, Mrs D'Silva's Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta for example.

But even making allowances for this I still did not enjoy the book because firstly The Dead of Winter starts with a prologue that virtually explained the plot.
The reader was then left wondering why the police were so slow on the uptake for about another 400 pages.

The narrative and plot development was frequently slowed by the history of minor characters, and I note that because of these distractions Sunnie at Sunnie's Book Blog give up at page 197.

The lengthy dialogue featuring some twee cockneys also frequently brought the narrative to a shuddering halt, and this coupled with a plethora of character stereotypes left me unsettled and bored.
Was around page 197 a vital fact hidden from the reader ? I suspect it was, or had all the characters called Alfie, Benny, Betty, Billy, Lily, Molly, Nelly, Solly and Sally confused this old man?

Nick Hay at Reviewing the Evidence states that "the pace, for the most part, is a little ponderous" and the book is "seems as much stolid as solid".

I am still puzzling why it was shortlisted.


Blogger Dorte H said...

Oh, you could also try to read each book backwards and see if that made sense :D

I think I will continue my own reading strategy: reading the books my good friends in my crime and mystery reading room recommend.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I read Mike's review, too, and I find it so interesting when a book gets two such different reviews. I appreciate your candor about the book; I always put my faith in reviews where I'm sure the reviewer is really being honest.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Dorte, a wise strategy.

Margot, giving an honest opinion sometimes gets me into trouble. Do editors continue to make suggestions to prize winning and best selling authors or do they let them have their head? Is this the reason for so many authors going downhill after a few books?

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a really good question, Uriah! Not being among the pantheon of best-sellers, I don't know for sure (I know I always get lots of input), but I would be willing to bet that publishers and editors are lots less particular about "big name" work than they are about work from lesser-known writers. If so, it certainly would explain why so many series fade once they become very popular. Sad, really...

9:12 AM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Norman, speak not to me of confusing names. I've just about managed to read a Candace Robb novel set in Wales, and 383 pages of the doings of Dafydd ap Gwilym gam ap Gwilym ab Einion Fawr and his pal Owain ap Thomas ap Rhodri ap Gruffud have caused me to double up my noon medications.

It's a funny thing about Airth. I wasn't able to get hold of his much-lauded River of Darkness, but I read The Blood-Dimmed Tide, and that was headed for my C List before I was halfway through.Thething that ties in here is that well into the book he started to do something inexplicably odd with chronology, inexplicable because there was no point to it.At the start of a chapter there was a meeting at which a major character was present.This was followed by another meeting, very puzzling until you realized that the said character was being told he couldn't leave the country because he had to be at a meeting -- the one we had just read about. And so it proceeded, much as someone had got the pages in the wrong order, exactly as if he recounted the proceeds at a dinner, then described the cooking of it. Altogeth I was woefully disappointed, and now I have to wonder if Airth just has a very odd perception of time. Maybe he should be working at subverting Einstein's Special Relativity rather than writing crime fiction.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Philip I usually lap books up from this period but I could not get into this one at all.
I wondered at one point if the cockney dialogue had been written by Dick van Dyke but it was all so lugubrious and a real drag I was pleased to finish it and move on.

1:02 PM  
Blogger crimeficreader said...

With you on Mrs D'Silva, but I suspect it wasn't entered, alas.

6:11 AM  
Blogger Karen (Euro Crime) said...

I did really enjoy River of Darkness but much less so Blood-Dimmed Tide and haven't bothered with #3.

Look forward to your informed choice of winner :).

5:16 AM  

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