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by RennieAirth
Penguin USA, August 2000
435 pages
ISBN: 0140291962

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Men who have been to war can never be the same when they return to their former life. They've witnessed unspeakable horrors that occur with enough frequency to make them mundane. How they recover from these experiences varies with each individual. In the case of Inspector John Madden, he is haunted by what occurred on the battlefield; but he's come back to a life as a police investigator at Scotland Yard and ultimately uses his background for the greater good. On the other hand, a person of less mettle has also come back, only to continue the work he began earlier in his life, killing and trying to satisfy a deeply insatiable sexual hunger, a "river of darkness".

As the story opens, World War I has just concluded. A family of five in Surrey has been brutally slain by an intruder who bayoneted each of the victims with the exception of the mistress of the house whose throat was slit. Although left in a provocative position, she had not been raped. The police are of two minds: one feeling that the work was that of a thief who became violent and the other feeling that a psychopath is on the loose who will strike again. Madden and his superior, Chief Inspector Sinclair, subscribe to the latter theory. When they find that the killer has dug a kind of trench from which to observe the family goings-on, they feel that he has military experience and Madden uses his war background to aid in his apprehension.

The book was a straightforward British police procedural for the first 80 pages, and then blossomed into a haunting psychological thriller. We are introduced to the perpetrator; and wandering through his dark mind makes the reader want to cry out in warning as the book proceeds. There are other killings, each more horrifying than the last.

I was surprised at the level of expertise around the gathering and analysis of forensic evidence. However, looking into the psyche of the murderer was not something that was yet commonplace. When Madden works with a psychologist to come up with a kind of profile, it has to be done almost secretly in order not to lose credibility. He's exposed to this field of thought by the village doctor, a woman named Helen Blackwell, who also has the keys to Madden's heart.

The book faltered only at the end, when, through speculation, the police lay out a complete history of the killer. It seemed very improbable to me that they could have arrived at the conclusions that they did about his childhood. Other than that, though, I found the book to be a riveting read, with a high level of suspense, vivid description and well-drawn characters. The chapters told from the killer's point of view are particularly chilling. Highly recommended.

Editor's Note: This is a review of the hardcover edition, published in 1999 by Viking Press

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, June 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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