Sunday, February 16, 2020

THE DECENT IN OF DEATH


THE DECENT INN OF DEATH
A John Madden Mystery
By Rennie Airth
Penguin Books
353 pgs

In a small village town, church organist Greta Hartman is found dead face down in a creek after having supposedly fallen off a slippery bridge. The problem is her best friend, Very Cruickshank doesn’t believe the fall was an accident. She fervently suspected her friend was murdered and manages to convey that suspicion to retired Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair who is staying nearby with the friends; John and Helen Madden. While they are abroad on vacation, Sinclair decides to do a little investigation on his own the result of which uncovers several anomalies with the facts of Mrs. Hartman’s death.

Like a bloodhound catching an elusive scent of something askew, Sinclair continues to pry into the matter until his inquiries lead him to suspect a very demented killer may be targeting a wealthy young and invalid widow named Julia Lesage. Even though clues are tenuous at best, the old copper travels to Oxford where Mrs. Lesage stately manor home is located. When a winter snow blizzard hits, Sinclair, Mrs. Lesage and her staff find themselves trapped without telephone service.

Meanwhile, having returned from his trip, John Madden is surprised his friend missing and begins his own hunt. Along the way, he steadily begins to gather information as to the reason for Sinclair’s absent and does his own search via his police contacts. All of which being to point to the truth at his friend may have stumbled onto a heinous crime and now find himself locked in a country estate with the killer.

The joy of this novel is the meticulous preciseness in which Airth lays out his tale. Described as a “police procedural” the story’s pace is deliberately set and the writer is in no apparent haste to tell it. Unlike the tensions we often find in American mysteries of this kind, Airth’s prose relishes the details, the dialog and the atmosphere beautifully. This skillful chapter by chapter unraveling builds to a truly suspenseful and highly dramatic climax we found perfectly realized. “The Decent Inn of Death” is a beautiful work of fiction as offered up by a writing master. We heartily recommend it.

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