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by Rennie Airth
Viking, July 2006
352 pages
ISBN: 0670899968

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On a lovely late summer's afternoon in 1932, former policeman John Madden and his physician wife Helen, are taking a leisurely back-road route through the English countryside toward their Surrey home. As they pass through one small village, they are puzzled to note a number of people gathered around a cottage. They are further surprised to see their own local constable emerge from the house.

It seems a local child, a 12-year-old girl, has gone missing on her way to a birthday party, and concerned locals are initiating a search. John joins in, while Helen offers support to the worried parents. Within a short time, it is John who discovers the fate of the child -- the worst possible.

Now the hunt is on for a tramp who was known to have been in the area but has vanished. John, however, with his talent for close observation and incisive thought, suspects the crime is even more sinister than it first appears. Investigation reveals that there have been other similar assaults, in England and abroad, and more certain to come if the killer cannot soon be traced.

John Madden first appeared in Airth's 1999 tour de force RIVER OF DARKNESS. In that work, he was a police detective, respected but severely damaged by the recent World War and further by the loss of his wife and child to influenza. The new science of psychology played a major role in the detection of the criminal, and the psychological journey of the detective was a major factor in the unfolding of the tale.

In this second outing, Madden is 12 years older, remarried and, at the insistence of his wife, retired from the force. He is drawn back into the fray much against his own will and even more definitely against his wife's.

I hesitate to criticize THE BLOOD DIMMED TIDE, because it is very well crafted and many cuts above the average mystery. Still, this one does not quite fulfil the promise of its predecessor. The basic story line is fairly predictable and the entire dynamic of Helen's fierce determination to keep John from getting involved turns her from a sympathetic character into a harridan, the Yoko Ono of Scotland Yard. Although I understand, in the abstract, her point of view, I didn't see enough of it within the story to give me a chance to identify with her.

Also, as John is less involved, we perceive parts of the story from the viewpoint of other policemen, and I found this slightly disorienting and a bit confusing, as I occasionally muddled up who it was I was following.

Airth has once again evoked very convincingly the time and place of his setting, and created many compelling and very watchable characters. There is, apparently, one more story to come in this series. Despite the relative weakness of this installment, I hope the third will come sooner than the six years that elapsed between the first two.

Reviewed by Diana Sandberg, May 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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