First Sentence: When she heard the stair creak beneath her foot, Portia stopped and stood frozen.
In 1938, at the estate of Sir Jack Jessup, a friend of the Prince of Wales, an actress is murdered. An ex-convict is arrested, confesses, and is hanged. But was he really the killer? In 1949, the reappearance of a necklace raises questions. Although the police aren’t interested in re-opening the case, former CI Angus Sinclair persuades his former Inspector, John Madden to pursue the investigation.
Although it’s been four years since Airth’s last book, he certainly hasn’t lost his touch. He also does an admirable job of catching readers, new and old, up with the characters, particularly of Madden and his family, and of the post-war period—“No matter how many times he visited Rotterdam…the sight of the devastation wrought by the German bombers in 1940 never ceased to impress…” A significant change brought about by the war was the introduction of the National Health Service.
Airth transports one to England by his descriptions of people and his dialogue. It is nice to have a protagonist with a solid family life—“Recently [his wife] had taken to wearing spectacles for reading and it was a source of wonder to Madden to see how a pair of simple horn-rimmed glasses perched on the end of her nose somehow added a new dimension to a face that had never ceased to hold him in thrall.”
There are excellent revelations and twists through the story, but so well and subtly done as not to feel at all contrived. An interesting shift, the explanation of an expression, and an evocative description all move the story forward nicely.
One can very much appreciate that all the police work well together. It is particularly gratifying that Lily, the female police officer who is a fairly new addition to the force, is treated with respect. That said, all the characters are fully developed and interesting.
When Airth does suspense, he does it well. The pace picks up significantly in the last third of the book when situations become dangerous and dramatic with red herrings nicely done. The reader is inclined to realize the guilty party just as Madden does.
“The Death of Kings” is a very good police procedural from a very good author.
THE DEATH OF KINGS: A John Madden Mystery (Pol Proc-John Madden-England-1949) – VG+
Airth, Rennie – 5th in series
Viking – 2017