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by Rennie Airth
Pan, February 2010
460 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0330465228

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In May 1940, a Jewish furrier is murdered in Paris just before the Germans arrive in the city. In November 1944, a Polish land girl is murdered in London. Both are killed in cold blood. Both killings are professionally done. What links them is the puzzle that must be solved by Scotland Yard before the killer strikes for the last time. For retired Inspector John Madden, the case is personal because the murdered land girl worked on his farm, and he joins his colleagues in tracking down the murderer.

This is, for the most part, a slowly unfolding murder enquiry. The police are in the dark and trying to catch up with the killer to find out what his agenda is before he can kill again. The time the book is set in is important because it is only when Paris falls to the Allies that vital information about the killer comes to light and the police race to try and catch the killer.

The detective work is slow and steady, but it is the depiction of another world, London in a cold winter's wartime, that enthralls you. This is a world of blackouts, death falling from the skies from V1 and V2 rockets, shortages, bad food and tired men working past when they should retire because there is no one else to take their place. Throughout this, the police must deal with the underside of London - spivs, the blackmarket, prostitutes, pimps and fences. There is also the entrenched sexism, where appointing a WPC to a murder case means writing a report to the Commissioner to explain the decision. All of this (and the incidental characters) are carefully drawn so you can see and hear them walk across the pages and follow them in the London AtoZ if you want to.

Anthea Hawdon lives in the North East of England and has spent her working life in and around the NHS; she consequently takes refuge in fiction as much as possible.

Reviewed by Anthea Hawdon, August 2010

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