Cover image of "The Dead of Winter," an English police procedural

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Paris, May 1940. A Jewish furrier has just converted most of his wealth into diamonds. As he prepares to leave France, with the Nazis on the outskirts of the city, he is brutally murdered by an intruder. Three and a half years later, a young Polish woman meets her death on the street in London in the dark of night. At first, it appears to be a random attack. But veteran Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair at Scotland Yard and the detective overseeing the case, Billy Styles, are convinced it isn’t. The young woman’s death kicks off many months of intensive police work involving Sinclair, Styles, and long-retired Detective Inspector John Madden. This is the engrossing tale Rennie Airth relates so skillfully in The Dead of Winter, the third of the six English police procedurals of the John Madden Mysteries.

Three crack investigators take on the case

Chief Inspector Sinclair had deferred his plans for retirement because the war had thinned the Yard’s ranks. “His name was associated with some of Scotland Yard’s most famous cases, and his reputation, particularly among the younger detectives at the Yard, was close to legendary.” But in November 1944, he is tethered to a desk, assigned as aide to the Assistant Commissioner. He is charged with keeping an eye on the full range of cases underway. When word of the young woman’s murder reaches his desk, he must rely on Inspector Billy Styles to manage the case despite his personal interest in it. And circumstances will force him to turn for help to his old friend, John Madden, retired from the force these twenty years to a marriage with a country doctor and a farm in Surrey.

The Dead of Winter (John Madden #3) by Rennie Airth (2009) 428 pages ★★★★★

Photo of destruction in London caused by a V-1 buzz bomb, a constant threat during the months of this English police procedural
Rescue workers at the site of an especially gruesome attack on London by a V-1 “buzz bomb.” These Nazi “vengeance weapons” hang over the action in this novel for months on end. Image: London Memorial

A frustrating case that lasts throughout the last months of the war

The Dead of Winter, like the other five John Madden Mysteries, is a police procedural. Over the months that follow the Polish woman’s murder, we follow the work of all three men and the subordinates they bring into the investigation. It’s a time full of frustration for all those involved. And, in Rennie Airth’s telling, we learn a great deal about investigative procedures at Scotland Yard as well as the work of the constables scattered throughout the countryside. Police are stretched to the limit, as lawlessness has greatly increased during the war. The black market is draining police resources and slows their reaction time to deal with other crimes.

Only in May 1945, after V-E day, do they manage to wrap up the case. Though other police officers become involved, Sinclair, Styles, and Madden account for most of the breakthroughs. But a talented WPC (Woman Police Constable) named Lily Poole makes important contributions, too. In the process, her experiences dramatize the misogyny that reigns at Scotland Yard.

Rennie Airth writes beautifully, and his skill at plotting is unsurpassed. The Dead of Winter is a superlative example of a police procedural in the hands of a writer at the top of his form.

About the author

Photo of Rennie Airth, author of this English police procedural
Rennie Airth. Image: Penguin Random House

Rennie Airth is the author of the six entries in the John Madden mystery series as well as two other novels. Earlier in life, he worked as a foreign correspondent for Reuters. Airth was born in South Africa in 1935 but now lives in Italy.

For more reading

This is one of The best police procedurals.

I’ve read nearly all six of the John Madden mysteries. If they interest you, I suggest starting with the first book in the series, River of Darkness (Rennie Airth’s John Madden series spans the world wars). To access the others, go to The engrossing John Madden British police procedurals.

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