In 1932, former Inspector John Madden of Scotland Yard has returned to the bucolic countryside. The Maddens have purchased a farm in Surrey, England, the Inspector, his wife, Helen, and their two children Rob and Lucy living quietly together. When he first met Helen, a physician, John was a lonely widower and expected never to find happiness again.
Passing through Brookham, John and Helen run into Will Stackpole, a colleague from one of Maddenís former investigations into a series of brutal murders over a decade ago. Now a constable, Stackpole requests Maddenís help with the disappearance of a young girl. Madden and Stackpole discover the girlís mutilated body hidden by a stream that runs near a trampís camp.
A man who has survived because of his instincts, Madden is increasingly concerned about the brutality of the crime and certain aspects that suggest the work of a serial killer. Deferring to the local authorities, Madden offers a cautionary word to Scotland Yard should their expertise be required. Other crimes of a similar nature are indeed uncovered, and the Yard takes over under the direction of Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair. Sinclair assigns Billy Sykes to help with the investigation. Both men are close friends of the Maddenís, featured in Airthís previous novel, River of Darkness.
Coordinating with the Yard, Sykes liaisons with Madden in the limited capacity Maddenís over-protective wife allows. Helen is still anxious about her husbandís health since the last case, when Madden was injured. The investigation throws a wide net, hoping to snag a serial killer with unhindered movement, possibly from continent to continent, camouflaged by his position and able to cover his tracks.
The country is still reeling from the Depression of the Ď30s, the brutal murders tracked by detectives who are also concerned with an evolving political climate, the entire mystery shrouded in the threat building in Europe where Jews are increasingly the target of random attacks. In the delicate balance of relations between England and Germany, the political ramifications are immense, Germany asserting itself, building up to the regime that will ultimately change the course of world history.
Airth melds the world of the serial killer with the current affairs of the 1930s with an implication that there is more afoot than meets the eye, a protected identity escaping through porous European borders. The killer is finally in their sights, but before the monster can be brought down, diplomatic complications arise, hindering the investigation.
As artfully written as River of Darkness, this bookís only disappointment is a lack of involvement by Madden, thanks to his wife; fortunately, other memorable characters are expanded to fill the void. The authorís incisive observations of human deviance and police procedure are joined in a taut thriller that brings back the menace of Hitlerís Germany in prose evocative of quieter times when even the threat of war captured every nationís attention, and evil was easily identified. On the brink of great societal upheaval, this novel is an excellent portrayal of dedicated men caught in the crossroads of history.