“The Reckoning,” a mystery by Rennie Airth, begins just a couple of years after World War II with the execution-style murder of retired bank manager, Oswald Gibson, an unassuming businessman with no known enemies. Gibson was fishing off a beach near the usually quiet countryside of Sussex, England. His wife had died several months earlier and he was enjoying his freedom. Gibson had had a visitor a few days earlier–a stranger, who questioned him about his past.

In Scotland, a respectable family doctor is killed in the same manner with a single bullet at the base of the neck. Forensic tests reveal that the same gun was used in the murder. The only thing in common between the two murders is that both men were elderly and there is no obvious motive for the killings.

Billy Styles, Detective Inspector of Scotland Yard, requests help from colleagues Detective Constable Lilly Poole, a highly intelligent and capable female officer, local detective Vic Chivers and the assistance of his retired boss, John Madden in helping solve the murders. One of the victims mentioned Madden’s name in an unfinished letter, consequently Madden apparently has a connection to the case, but he has no idea what it might be. He doesn’t remember any of the victims.

Styles and Madden realize that a serial killer is on the loose as other elderly men are murdered in the same manner and with the same gun. What is the connection? What is the motive? As the investigation continues, it does reveal one link—all victims served in World War 1.

John Madden also served in the war. Does that mean that he will meet the same fate as the other men? He sadly remembers serving on the panel for the court-martial of a soldier and the subsequent execution of the soldier. He was powerless to stop the man’s execution. Is the court-martial the one thing that connects all of the victims?

The events in the novel occur in post World War II Britain. Rationing is still in place and times are hard. Great Britain has yet to be rebuilt from the war’s extensive bomb damage. Rennie Airth, a brilliant storyteller, skillfully provides excellent descriptions of the atmosphere of the times– of both history and place. His character development is terrific and the plot lines intricately drawn.

This novel is a suspenseful British police procedural, meticulous in detail. It isn’t like the action-packed thriller that I normally read, but I definitely enjoyed it. It is definitely not a British “cozy” mystery either.

“The Reckoning” is fourth in the John Madden series but can be read as a standalone novel. Prior knowledge of the characters’ background would provide a better sense of their relationships, so it might be helpful to read the previous three novels in the John Madden series.

I listened to the MP3 audiobook with veteran narrator, Robert Ian Mackenzie, who gives each character his own voice and convincingly conveys the bleak atmosphere of post-war Britain.

“The Reckoning” is available in print and MP3 audiobook formats, and the first three novels in the series are available in print from the Joplin Public Library.

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