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 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?
I am still puzzling why it was shortlisted.