The United States entered as combatants late in World War I. The French and the British on one side and the Germans on the other side engaged in trench warfare, living in rain and ice-filled trenches for years. The Germans used mustard gas as part of their arsenal, destroying the lungs of many of the allied soldiers. The experiences of the soldiers on both sides led to an agreement that should this war prove not to be “the war to end all wars”, trenches and poison gas would not be used on enemies in the military. Rennie Airth, like Charles Todd, wrote a series of books about a British soldier who returns after the war to pick up his life as a policeman.
Rennie Airth was born in South Africa and was a journalist until he turned to the writing of fiction. John Madden, like Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge, has returned to Scotland Yard after serving with British Forces in World War I. Madden is as deeply scared as Rutledge, although the two characters are completely different. Madden is not only dealing with the trauma of the battlefield, he has also lost his wife and daughter in the flu epidemic. For Madden, work is a way to avoid facing his personal losses.
Airth created the character after coming across material left by an uncle who was killed during the first world war. Madden does not come from the same privileged background as Rutledge and so he brings a different slant on life to the business of crime solving. He is more open to those he meets than Rutledge.
I read each of these books as they were published so the reviews on Amazon are more accurate than my memory.
From Kirkus Reviews
All the familiar elements of suspense writing are given an unusual and satisfying twist in this grim and fascinating thriller set in the English countryside shortly after WWI. Inspector John Madden of Scotland Yard, a taciturn veteran and casualty of that war, and a widower still mourning the loss of his wife and young daughter, is sent to investigate the gruesome murders of a prominent, well-liked family in a small Surrey village. Aided by young constable Billy Styles, as well as an initially almost indistinguishable parade of local police personnel and their several superiors, Madden is quick to recognize the nature of his quarry’s particular expertise. An unsolved earlier murder is shown to eerily parallel the present one, and the hunt is underway, for an ex-soldier whose modus operandi includes “constructing a military-type dugout” near the scene of each successive crime he patiently plots and carries out. In a nail-biting narrative that generates terrific suspense, Airth juxtaposes the specifics of the police’s investigation with brief glimpses of victims-to-be and also chilling views of their scarcely human killer whose identity is soon revealed, though the full truth of his complex motivation is saved for the closing pages. The impression of a world made mad by the carnage and psychic weight of the recent war is very strikingly conveyed. As a Viennese psychiatrist (whom Madden consults) puts it: “When it comes to injuries wrought to the human psyche, there is no need to look further than the experience of the common soldier in the trenches.” And the depth of that madness becomes vividly apparent as the story reaches its savage climax, sobering denouement, and elegiac conclusion. A fine, frightening piece of work. One looks forward to meeting Inspector John Madden again soon. — Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
-Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review On a freezing London night in 1944, Rosa Novak is brutally murdered during a blackout. Scotland Yard suspects the young Polish refugee was the victim of a random act of violence and might have dropped the case if former police investigator John Madden hadn’t been her employer. Madden feels he owes it to Rosa to find her killer and pushes the investigation, uncovering her connection to a murdered Parisian furrier, a member of the Resistance, and a stolen cache of diamonds.Delivering the atmospheric writing and compelling characters that have already established Rennie Airth as a master of suspense as well as style, this long-awaited third installment in the John Madden series is historical crime writing at its best.