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The Reckoning (John Madden Series #4)
     

The Reckoning (John Madden Series #4)

3.6 3
by Rennie Airth
 

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Inspector John Madden—who debuted in River of Darkness—returns in a gripping post-WWII murder mystery

On a quiet afternoon in 1947, retired bank manager Oswald Gibson is shot in the head while fishing. In Scotland, a respectable family doctor is killed in the same manner—and with the same gun. What is the connection? Scotland

Overview

Inspector John Madden—who debuted in River of Darkness—returns in a gripping post-WWII murder mystery

On a quiet afternoon in 1947, retired bank manager Oswald Gibson is shot in the head while fishing. In Scotland, a respectable family doctor is killed in the same manner—and with the same gun. What is the connection? Scotland Yard’s Detective Inspector Billy Styles and local detective Vic Chivers are baffled until a letter from
Gibson is discovered that might shed some light on the case—a letter concerning former Scotland Yard detective John Madden. Despite Madden’s legendary memory, he has no recollection of meeting Gibson or any idea of what their relationship might have been. Madden is happily retired from police work, but agrees to help his former protégé, Styles, and the clues they uncover only deepen the mystery. When a third man is killed in a similar murder, Madden and Styles find themselves in a race against time to find the killer before another man ends up dead.

A smart, intricately plotted mystery, this is the fourth title in the critically acclaimed and much loved John Madden series.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Marilyn Stasio
Like the previous books in this almost too beautifully written series, The Reckoning is about the comforts of redemption and forgiveness—and the impossibility of forgetting.
Publishers Weekly
06/30/2014
Like its predecessors, Edgar-finalist Airth’s so-so fourth John Madden novel (after 2009’s Dead of Winter) transitions from a whodunit to a search for a known killer well before the end. In 1947, someone shoots Oswald Gibson, a retired bank manager, in the head while he’s fishing in a stream near Lewes, Sussex. Before his death, a visit from a stranger prompted Gibson to compose a letter to Scotland Yard asking about Madden’s whereabouts. Long retired from Scotland Yard, Madden is sure he never met the man. A month earlier, someone shot Dr. Wallace Drummond in his surgery in Ballater, Scotland, “in exactly the same manner.” Readers will have little trouble staying ahead of the police as they attempt to figure out what Madden, Gibson, and Drummond could have had in common, and they will be disappointed by a plot hole in the resolution. Less developed than in previous books, Madden comes across as somewhat dull. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary Agency. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-07-12
John Madden comes out of retirement in post-World War II Britain to help solve a case from his past. Hikers enjoying the countryside near the Sussex town of Lewes see a slightly built man in a red sweater approach Oswald Gibson as he's enjoying a peaceful day of fishing. But no one sees when Gibson is ordered to kneel and is shot execution style, and no one sees the killer leave. Chief Inspector Detective Billy Styles orders a thorough investigation and police search, but the murderer seems to have vanished. Besides noting similarities between Gibson's death and that of a doctor in Aberdeen, Styles finds a letter Gibson was writing to Scotland Yard to inquire about the whereabouts of John Madden, the former detective who taught Styles his trade. Madden doesn't recognize Gibson from the photographs the murdered man's brother shows him, and the only clue so far is that Gibson and the Scottish doctor were both shot with identical bullets, German-made with iron cores. The execution of a third man confirms the killer's pattern of visiting the victims in advance, apparently to establish their identities before delivering the coup de grace. Then an entry in Gibson's diary gives Madden the link he needs to the killer and to his own past: a tragic incident he tried and failed to prevent during World War I. Now he realizes he's in search of someone skilled at deception and disguise and who won't stop until all the parties involved pay for a long-ago injustice. Although the exposition, interspersed with scenes from Madden's domestic life, is leisurely, momentum builds to a satisfying ending. Madden's fourth case (The Dead of Winter, 2009, etc.) maintains Airth's reputation for carefully constructed, highly detailed plots. Although the hero doesn't dominate the present-day action, his past involvement adds an emotional element to his determination to end the killings.
From the Publisher
Praise for The Reckoning:

“I have been a huge fan of Rennie Airth’s novels featuring John Madden since first reading River of Darkness, and had been eagerly awaiting The Reckoning—it does not disappoint. Airth is at the top of his game, engaging the reader with dense plotting, page-turning narrative and expert characterization. I absolutely could not put it down!”—Jacqueline Winspear, author of Maisie Dobbs
 
“The marvelous John Madden returns in a stunning new mystery—Rennie Airth’s The Reckoning will keep you pinned to the page to the very end!”—Charles Todd, New York Times bestselling author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries and the Bess Crawford Mysteries

Praise for Rennie Airth:
 
“Move over, Inspectors Alleyn, Dalgliesh, and Morse, and make room for John Madden in the pantheon of great, civilized English sleuths. With THE DEAD OF WINTER, Rennie Airth now carries us through the third of Madden’s encounters with a killer sprung from a Europe at war with itself. It’s safe to say that once you’ve read it, you will start longing for Madden’s next case.” – Jane Kramer, The New Yorker
  
“Enter John Madden, protagonist of three fine novels…Madden is seamlessly admirable…In an era when our real-life heroes tend to have feet of thick, grubby clay, it can be bracing to spend time with a  man who is naturally but not implausibly noble.” – The Washington Post Book World
 
“[Airth’s] meticulously detailed procedural mysteries are beautifully written…[he] has produced three novels that are well worth reading, and rereading, whenever we’re engaged in war.” – Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times
 
“One of the best mysteries in years.” – The Boston Globe
 
“Airth writes with arresting authority and compassion…a major talent.” – Chicago Tribune
 
“It’s the tactics and the terrain, the morale and the characters that make the difference between an average thriller and one as good as this.” – Christopher Dickey, The New York Times Book Review
 
“A mystery thick with atmosphere and even psychoanalysis….Pay close attention to detail – the author did.” – Susan Hall-Balduf, Detroit Free Press
 
“Starts off as a genteel British whodunit but soon escalates into a suspense thriller…. However, Airth’s novel has an added psychological assurance and a tension-packed elegance. It’s up there with the works of P. D. James and Ruth Rendell. High praise indeed.” – Pauline Mayer, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670785681
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/14/2014
Series:
John Madden Series , #4
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 by Rennie Airth

PROLOGUE

Lewes, Sussex, 1947

As he was fitting a new fly to his hook, Oswald Gibson looked up and saw two figures on the ridge above, both of them carrying what looked like fishing gear over their shoulders, long, cylindrical cases of the kind that you could fit two sections of a rod in.

‘Damn!’

They were coming over a saddle in the low green hills and, having spotted the grassy bank where Oswald was standing with his rod, were probably heading for that very spot. Upstream from a small pool where the trout paused, as though waiting for any tempting flies that might come their way, it was the best fishing site on the stream and one that Oswald had come to think of as his own.

And he knew what was going to happen next, almost as though it were fated. The men would turn up, they’d exchange polite greetings and then, after looking around and seeing that this was the place to be, they’d say, ‘Mind if we join you?’ and take out their rods, probably not even waiting for a reply.

And Oswald would say nothing. He’d make no complaint, not say that he did mind and would they kindly shove off and find somewhere else to do their angling. No, he’d stand there dumb and resentful, accepting – as he always had – his failure to stand up to others, unable to escape the vision he had of himself as one of life’s doormats.

‘For heaven’s sake, Oswald! For once in your life assert yourself.’ The words were inscribed in his memory as though on marble, which wasn’t surprising, given the number of times he had heard them. ‘Why do you let people walk all over you?’ He could hardly have replied that it was because he was a doormat (though he’d been tempted to, and more than once). Still, the whirligig of time brought in its revenges. (The saying was one of Oswald’s favourites.) Fresh in his mind still was the memory of the morning a year ago when he had come upstairs with Mildred’s breakfast tray and found her lying in bed, with her eyes staring and her mouth agape: stone-dead.

‘Stiff as a rod,’ he had murmured to himself in wonder as he’d touched his wife’s hand for the last time.

Meanwhile the men had crossed the saddle in the ridge and were coming down the hillside, close to where a flock of sheep were grazing, watched over by a dog. They were on a path that would join the one that ran along the valley floor, which in turn would bring them to his doorstep. Oswald braced himself for the encounter he was sure was about to take place. He could at least be cool with them, he thought: he would let them see they were not welcome. Perhaps they would take the hint and depart. As he stood there, already uncertain in his resolve, knowing in his heart that he was simply unable to deal with confrontation, he heard a piercing whistle and saw the sheepdog, a border collie, rise from the grass and begin to circle the flock it was guarding, coaxing them into movement. He scanned the hillside for their shepherd, a man he knew by sight, but it was some moments before he spotted him standing at the edge of a small copse near the crest of the ridge, his familiar figure blending with the shadow cast by the trees. For some minutes the sheep continued to move across the hillside, urged on by the dog, until a final whistle, different in pitch, brought it to a halt and the flock settled down again.

Distracted by the spectacle, Oswald had half-forgotten the approaching threat, but when he turned his gaze on the fishermen again it was to discover that he’d had a reprieve. During the minute or so that he had spent watching the shepherd, the pair had reached the intersection of the two paths, but instead of coming upstream to join him, as he had feared they would, they had gone in the other direction; in fact he could hear the sound of their voices growing fainter as they moved away. His solitude was preserved.

‘Well, thank heaven for that.’

With a sigh of satisfaction he turned back to face the stream and a moment later his line, with the fly attached, went soaring off in an arc to fall softly on the still surface of the pool. He felt better already.

Earlier that morning he had awoken from a fitful sleep still troubled by the memory of an uninvited visitor who had called on him the week before, a nosy intruder he’d never met or heard of, who had knocked on his front door and, without so much as a by-your-leave, had proceeded to question him, sharply at times, about some long-forgotten episode in his past. Names, dates, places – the questions had been fired at him like so many missiles, as if he could be expected to remember details of that kind after all this time; and when he had dared to object to the interrogation, he’d been assured that the enquiry had official backing – something he’d been unable to challenge, but suspected was true, as this new Labour government seemed to think it had the right to stick its nose into everything. Oswald had endured the ordeal sullenly. He had sensed the hostility of his questioner without being able to identify its source and for this reason had been as uncooperative as he dared.

In particular he’d neglected to mention the journals he had kept as a young man, when he had still thought his experiences might have some value – that his life might amount to some- thing – and which were gathering dust in a desk drawer. When his inquisitor had left at last, and without a word of thanks, he had dug them out and quickly found the volume that dealt with the events in question. Yes, there it was, the whole business faithfully reported in his own unique style, a mode of expression clear to him, but not to prying eyes (Mildred’s, for example). And although Oswald had been surprised by the amount of information his tormentor possessed, at least he’d been given an avenue to pursue: one possible means of getting to the bottom of what had been an unusually disagreeable experience.

Among the names flung at him, most of which he had forgotten, was one that struck a special chord in Oswald’s memory: not because it had seemed important at the time (on the contrary, he hadn’t even bothered to record it in his journal), but because he remembered some remarks this individual had made that prompted him to wonder now if the fellow was still alive and whether he could track him down. He’d be just the chap to ask about this so-called investigation, Oswald told himself: he would know, if anyone did, what lay behind it all. Finding him had been the problem, however. The only way Oswald could think to do so was to write to the man’s former employers on the off-chance they were still in contact with him. But although he had begun to pen the necessary letter, he had quickly lost heart and put it aside. What was he getting himself into? he had wondered. The truth was that he hadn’t enjoyed having his past raked up – not that bit, anyway – and when he’d thought more about it, and about his strange and unsettling interview with his recent visitor, he’d been inclined to let the whole matter drop: to let sleeping dogs lie.

But for some reason the business had continued to bother him. When, a few days later, he had travelled to Hastings to spend a long weekend with an old friend of his who had retired to the seaside town, he had found himself still dogged by the memory of his impromptu interview and, even before he set out to return home, he had resolved to talk the matter over with his elder brother, Ned. Ned was the person he turned to most often for advice and, as luck would have it, Ned was coming down from London to spend the following weekend with him.

Oswald looked at his watch. It was after five. Mrs Gannet, his daily, was usually gone by half-past four and he would have to wait until tomorrow to have a word with her about his weekend guest and how to feed him. With rationing still in force – and that in spite of the war being over for two years now – food was perpetually in short supply; fortunately Edna Gannet was a resourceful woman (and a great relief to have about the house after thirty years of marriage to the relentless Mildred) and Oswald was sure that somehow she would make ends meet. For one thing, there were the trout, which continued to attach themselves obligingly to his hook and line, and which were at least beyond the ration man’s reach. Only that afternoon he’d caught a fine specimen – it was still flopping in its death-throes on the grass bank behind him – and by Saturday, which was four days off, he might have caught more. The thought brought a grin to his lips as he sent his line winging over the water for the last time. Though something of a novice as an angler – he’d never had the time for it when he’d been married, Mildred had seen to that – he’d found he had an unexpected talent for the sport and, now that he was retired (and a widower to boot) and able to devote more hours to his hobby, he was reaping the re- wards of his determination to master its finer points.

Reeling in his line, he heard the shepherd’s whistle again, coming from the hillside behind him; this time he ignored it, continuing instead to gaze at the scene before him: at the willow trees on the far bank bending to touch the stream, and at the water itself, which still sparkled in the last of the sunlight. It had been a gem of an autumn day, with the October sun only now beginning to pale in the blue sky and the shadows starting to lengthen, and throughout the quiet afternoon Oswald had hummed contentedly to himself, as if in harmony with the chorus that came from a pair of ringdoves in the giant oak tree that overlooked the stream at that point, and whose spreading branches offered welcome shade. For many years he had been a member of the local choral society and for some weeks had been attending rehearsals for the concert of Gilbert and Sullivan favourites that the group planned to give at their annual autumn concert in a few weeks’ time.

Oswald had been picked to sing one of the solo numbers and had been practising hard.

‘A wandering minstrel I . . .’

As he bent down to collect his things from the grassy bank, stowing the trout in the old kitchen basket he used as a creel and gathering up the crumbs of his lunchtime sandwich to put in a piece of greaseproof paper, he broke into song.

A thing of shreds and patches . . .’

He searched about him for his tin of flies; he knew he’d put it down on the grass somewhere.

Of ballads, songs and snatches, And dreamy lullaby . . .’

Spying it some way up the bank, he began to move in that direction; but stopped when he saw a shadow fall across the tin.

Oswald looked up. Squinting against the setting sun, he saw the silhouette of a man on the bank above him. Dressed in hiking clothes – breeches of some kind – topped by a baggy sweater, he stood faceless in the shadow cast by his hat brim.

‘Yes . . .? ’

Uncertain as ever, Oswald hesitated – and in that moment recognition dawned on him and he stared, open-mouthed, as the figure moved, coming down the bank towards him with unhurried steps.

‘What in heaven’s name—?’

The question died on his lips. He had been gaping in wonder at the face beneath the hat brim. But then the glint of metal had caught his eye, and his heart had lurched.

‘No—’

The word was his last. Struck dumb in the last minutes of his life, in the grip not only of terror but of sheer disbelief, he could only stay where he was, planted like a tree on the bank, crouched over his knees, until he felt the cold touch of steel on his neck.

And then nothing more.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Praise for The Reckoning:

“I have been a huge fan of Rennie Airth’s novels featuring John Madden since first reading River of Darkness, and had been eagerly awaiting The Reckoning—it does not disappoint. Airth is at the top of his game, engaging the reader with dense plotting, page-turning narrative and expert characterization. I absolutely could not put it down!”—Jacqueline Winspear, author of Maisie Dobbs
 
“The marvelous John Madden returns in a stunning new mystery—Rennie Airth’s The Reckoning will keep you pinned to the page to the very end!”—Charles Todd, New York Times bestselling author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries and the Bess Crawford Mysteries

Praise for Rennie Airth:
 
“Move over, Inspectors Alleyn, Dalgliesh, and Morse, and make room for John Madden in the pantheon of great, civilized English sleuths. With THE DEAD OF WINTER, Rennie Airth now carries us through the third of Madden’s encounters with a killer sprung from a Europe at war with itself. It’s safe to say that once you’ve read it, you will start longing for Madden’s next case.” – Jane Kramer, The New Yorker
  
“Enter John Madden, protagonist of three fine novels…Madden is seamlessly admirable…In an era when our real-life heroes tend to have feet of thick, grubby clay, it can be bracing to spend time with a  man who is naturally but not implausibly noble.” – The Washington Post Book World
 
“[Airth’s] meticulously detailed procedural mysteries are beautifully written…[he] has produced three novels that are well worth reading, and rereading, whenever we’re engaged in war.” – Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times
 
“One of the best mysteries in years.” – The Boston Globe
 
“Airth writes with arresting authority and compassion…a major talent.” – Chicago Tribune
 
“It’s the tactics and the terrain, the morale and the characters that make the difference between an average thriller and one as good as this.” – Christopher Dickey, The New York Times Book Review
 
“A mystery thick with atmosphere and even psychoanalysis….Pay close attention to detail – the author did.” – Susan Hall-Balduf, Detroit Free Press
 
“Starts off as a genteel British whodunit but soon escalates into a suspense thriller…. However, Airth’s novel has an added psychological assurance and a tension-packed elegance. It’s up there with the works of P. D. James and Ruth Rendell. High praise indeed.” – Pauline Mayer, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Meet the Author

Rennie Airth is the author of six novels, including the John Madden series. The first, River of Darkness, was nominated for Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity awards, and won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière.

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The Reckoning (John Madden Series #4) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well plotted vengeful suspense story! Review limited due to Advance Uncorrected Proofs: A well plotted vengeful suspense story during the postwar of Great Britain. The story spans early 1920's just after WWWII. I thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of mystery, you know the whole Scotland Yard, Inspectors, Constable and murders-yet-to-be-solved kind of thing. I found the author building up each character as you turn page after page which entail a cumbersome effect. I got a bit side track trying to distinguish what characters did what. Maybe it was my fault for not reading the other books but the novel should stand alone. However I chalk it up as a glitch and I soon immersed myself back into it. All in all the story grabs you into a world of intrigue that shifts your thoughts to war and the horror of it. The scenic parts of Britain held me transfixed, details so captivating. Wonderful atmospheric quality I must say, even though I had a glitch. Highly recommend this read. I won this book on Goodreads, First Read Giveaway. Thank you, Darlene Cruz
nhr3bookcrazyNR More than 1 year ago
Another John Madden novel - hooray. I was so glad to learn there was another John Madden book - even though originally it was supposed to be a trilogy. But John Madden finds himself once again involved in an investigation by Scotland Yard. I was caught up in the story right from the beginning - although I have to admit I did "have a feeling" about where the story line might be going before it was presented. But I wasn't absolutely certain. The actually time/setting is 1947, post WWII England - but the actual cause of the story dates further back in time. It's another great story to the collection of John Madden books. If you liked the ealier books, you'll love this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ridiculous. I have generally liked the previius books in this series, but I feel nothing but disgust for Madden's ludicrous and unbelievable sympathy for a murderlus monster. He is, of course, a major wuss, particularly wher women are concerned, but this level of false empathy is beyond belief. I get tired of Airth's axe to grind also. All the women in her books are suordmely "spunky" (I.e., obnoxious and spoiled) in ways in which very few women would have been at that time. Evvery freaking one of them! You would think they were all the same character, really. I despise writersx that populate historical settings with modern characters. If you do that, you'd better call what you're writing a fantasy, not a mystery.