Fifteen Whodunit members came out to Chapters on a chilly spring evening to discuss "The river of darkness" by Rennie Airth.
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 coupled with his time in the trenches have damaged his psyche and left him grave and despondent.
Set in a sleepy Surrey village, the crime is a particularly brutal one. A whole family have been murdered in their home by a bayonet wielding psychopath. Madden's experience in the military makes him particularly well suited to find the killer who he rightfully guesses is also ex-military.
The local doctor, who has strong views in the new field of forensic psychology, aids his endeavors. When they discover that another similar crime was committed, they realize that they are looking for a serial killer who must be stopped before more blood is shed. The character of Dr. Helen Blackwell is very strong. She is forward thinking, bright, caring and just the person who can heal the damages suffered by John Madden.
With well written red herrings and relentless suspense, this is a novel which invites positive criticism. The time period and sense of place are well portrayed and the descriptions stay with the reader long after the pages bearing them are turned.
The only negative comments from Whodunit members concerned the peripheral characters. They found it hard to keep straight who was who, what rank they were etc. when at times the author referred to them by their first name, sometimes by their surname and sometimes by their rank. With three policeman having a surname beginning with 'S', this seemed a valid criticism.
The following two novels in the trilogy are: "The blood-dimmed tide" and "The dead of winter".
Lucky Whodunit Book Club members who won the book giveaways this month were:
In June we will be discussing "The redbreast" by Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo.