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by Rennie Airth
Viking, August 2014
368 pages
ISBN: 0670785687

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In Sussex in 1947, a retired bank manager named Oswald Gibson is coldly executed at close range while fishing on a riverbank, and although there are other people nearby, the killer manages to vanish.

When the case is brought to the attention of a Sussex CID Inspector Vic Chivers, he suspects it is linked to another death; in a Scottish village a doctor named Drummond had suffered a similar fate only a month earlier. Neither man had any apparent enemies, leaving the police with few leads to pursue. But ballistics provides the vital link: the gun that killed Gibson and Drummond was the same weapon, and used bullets uniquely manufactured in Germany during the Second World War.

Before long they discover that shortly before his death Gibson had been in the process of drafting a letter to the commissioner of Scotland Yard, mentioning a retired CID officer by name. Chivers and Met Inspector Billy Styles realize they are confronted by no ordinary case, and waste no time in bringing the man - former Chief Inspector John Madden, and Style's former mentor - into the picture.

But leads are thin on the ground. On the face of it the two victims had little in common. Still, the question will not go away: are these crimes merely the harbinger of yet more violence, in which other unsuspecting persons are also slated for death? It falls to the investigative team - now including Madden - to unearth the connection and bring the killer to justice before more people die. Their efforts will take them back in time to an event in which Madden himself had been involved, and before it is ended others will die and Madden's own life will be in jeopardy.

I am a fan of well-written historical crime novels, especially those that focus on the first and second world wars. So I wish I could say that I enjoyed reading THE RECKONING, but I can't. The plot was all too obvious from the outset (though curiously, not to Madden himself), and the style laboured, more dated than period. In places there are obvious errors that ought to have been caught before publication (such as describing the wartime SOE as the Secret Operations Executive, rather than correctly as the Special Operations Executive). The characters are clichéd and two-dimensional: amiable retired CID officers are found tending their roses in country cottages, and pressed into active service; self-important Colonel Blimps are haranguing their secretaries and pontificating on their wartime experiences. And, of course, there is the obligatory woman CID officer (though in those days at the lowest possible rank), gamely risking life and limb to show that she's Up to The Job. We've all been here before. Such details may have the ring of truth (that's how clichés get to be clichés) but it hardly makes for compelling reading. Despite the author's glowing promise at his debut, this is a book that will find its audience among some readers of a certain age, those who lament the frenetically-paced and cartoonishly-styled characters of much contemporary fiction. It is at best comfortable bedtime reading.

§ Since 2005 Jim Napier's reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on various crime fiction and literary websites, including his own award-winning site, Deadly Diversions. He can be reached at jnapier@deadlydiversions.com

Reviewed by Jim Napier, October 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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