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Rennie Airth books in order

Rennie Airth is a South African author of mystery novels.

He is best known for writing the John Madden Series.

A journalist by profession, having worked for several years as a foreign correspondent for Reuters news service, Rennie was inspired to write the John Madden novels when he discovered, among some family papers, souvenirs of an uncle who perished in World World One.

River Of Darkness (1999), the first installment of the series, received critical acclaim, as it earned several award nominations, including the Edgar Award for Best Novel, the Macavity Awards for Best Mystery Novel, and Dilys Award.

The author of other engrossing reads such as Snatch! (1969) and Once A Spy (1981), Rennie currently lives in Cortona, Italy.

More about Rennie Airth

Genres: Historical Mystery, Mystery

Born: 1935

South Africa

Non Series

  • Snatch! (1969)
  • Once A Spy (1981)
  • Cold Kill (2020)

John Madden

  1. River Of Darkness (1999)
  2. The Blood-Dimmed Tide (2004)
  3. The Dead of Winter (2009)
  4. The Reckoning (2014)
  5. The Death of Kings (2017)
  6. The Decent Inn of Death (2020)

Detailed book overview

Non Series


Everything was going fine for you, Harry. You had a decent income from trading in phony passports, a lovely French mistress, and all the pleasures of Paris at your fingertips. Then Morland showed up. You should have been wary from the first moment you saw him. You should have ordered him to leave, but you didn't. 

You listened to his line, and that led to an apartment in Rome, a fantastic chick name Paula, a menacing ex-Nazi named Herman, a pimp named Rifai, and an elaborate plan for a royal kidnapping to net you more money than you ever dreamed of. But the dream is over, Harry, and the most horrifying nightmare of your life has only just begun...

Author: Rennie Airth
First Release: 1969
ISBN: 978-0451046536
Publisher: Signet Books
Once A Spy

This book tells the story of a former spy who must confront his past and face dangerous adversaries in order to protect those he loves. The novel follows the life of John Bachelor, a former intelligence agent who has retired from the service and is now living a quiet life in rural England.

However, when his son is kidnapped by a ruthless criminal organization, Bachelor is forced to come out of retirement and use all his skills and knowledge to track down the kidnappers and save his son. Along the way, Bachelor must navigate a web of deceit and betrayal, as he discovers that his past is catching up with him and that he may have to confront the very people he once worked for.

Airth's writing is gripping and intense, with twists and turns that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end. The character of John Bachelor is complex and multifaceted, making him a relatable and engaging protagonist that readers will root for from beginning to end.

"Once A Spy" is a masterfully crafted novel that combines espionage, action, and family drama to create a truly unforgettable story. It is a must-read for anyone who loves spy thrillers or action-packed fiction.

Author: Rennie Airth
First Release: 1981
ISBN: 978-0224019026
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Cold Kill

An American actress arrives in London to find herself the target of a ruthless assassin...

Actress Adelaide Banks is swapping her native New York for London to spend Christmas with her widowed Aunt Rose. Rose wrote in her note that she was off to Paris for a few days and would be back in time for Addy's arrival. But when Addy reaches Rose's Knightsbridge address, no one's home, and she has two unexpected callers ...

Where is Rose, and what has she got herself entangled in? Dragged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse on the snowy streets of London, Addy finds herself navigating a dark underworld of ruthless assassins, rogue agents and international crime. Can she survive long enough to uncover the truth?

Author: Rennie Airth
First Release: 2020
ISBN: 978-1780296777
Publisher: Severn House Publishers

John Madden

River Of Darkness

In a quiet and picturesque English countryside where people are still recuperating from the ravages of World War I, the peace of a small Surrey village is shattered by the discovery of a horrifying murder.

Five victims; four of them killed with military efficiency and, judging from the wounds, a military bayonet. The fifth victim, the lady of the house, is found nearly naked, sprawled on a bed, her throat slashed with a razor. Even more startling than the actual carnage are two subsequent findings: the lack of any sort of sexual assault and the discovery of a child - a young girl hiding beneath a bed.

Scotland Yard sends out Inspector John Madden to investigate the murders. Madden, with some heavy psychological baggage of his own courtesy of the war, recognizes the mark of madness in the killer's work and has a unique understanding of the killer's methods, habits, and rituals. 

While the local constabulary figures the murders for a robbery gone horribly wrong, Madden is quick to recognize the presence of a more sinister motive. He seeks the help of Dr. Helen Blackwell, a local physician who lost both her brothers and her husband to the war. Dr. Blackwell's professional connections include a Viennese psychiatrist who is well versed in the relatively new field of forensic psychology, and together they try to develop a psychological profile for the killer.

The deeper Madden digs into the case, the harder it is for him to maintain the fragile wall he has built around his own painful memories. A spark between him and Helen Blackwell quickly becomes an all-consuming fire, and in the tender exploratory phase of their relationship, Helen gently urges him to face his personal demons head-on.

Meanwhile, Madden discovers the killer has struck once before, a murder that was left unsolved. When Madden gets the idea to look for similar crimes that may have occurred during the war, he finds one, and a clearer and even more frightening picture of the killer begins to evolve.

Author: Rennie Airth
First Release: 1999
ISBN: 978-0143035701
Publisher: Penguin Books
The Blood-Dimmed Tide

The Blood-Dimmed Tide, set in 1932, marks the return of the beloved Inspector John Madden, whose discovery of a young girl's mutilated corpse near his home in rural England brings him out of retirement despite his wife's misgivings. Soon he finds himself chasing a killer whose horrific crime could have implications far afield in a Europe threatened by the rise of Hitler.

Author: Rennie Airth
First Release: 2004
ISBN: 978-0143037101
Publisher: Penguin Books
The Dead of Winter

On a freezing London night in 1944, Rosa Novak is brutally murdered during a blackout. Scotland Yard suspects the young Polish refugee was the victim of a random act of violence and might have dropped the case if former police investigator John Madden hadn't been her employer. Madden feels he owes it to Rosa to find her killer and pushes the investigation, uncovering her connection to a murdered Parisian furrier, a member of the Resistance, and a stolen cache of diamonds.

Author: Rennie Airth
First Release: 2009
ISBN: 978-0143117247
Publisher: Penguin Books
The Reckoning

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 fashion, Madden and Styles find themselves in a race against time to find the killer before another man ends up dead.

Author: Rennie Airth
First Release: 2014
ISBN: 978-0143126942
Publisher: Penguin Books
The Death of Kings

On a hot summer day in 1938, a beautiful actress is murdered on the grand Kent estate of Sir Jack Jessup, close friend of the Prince of Wales. The arrest of an ex-convict and his subsequent confession swiftly bring the case to a close, but in 1949, the reappearance of a jade necklace raises questions about the murder. Was the man convicted and executed the decade before truly guilty?

Though happily retired from the police force, John Madden is persuaded to investigate the case afresh.

Author: Rennie Airth
First Release: 2017
ISBN: 978-0399563461
Publisher: Penguin Books
The Decent Inn of Death

On a trip into Winchester, former chief inspector Angus Sinclair learns of a tragedy that has taken place in the village he is staying in. Beloved church organist Greta Hartmann has slipped and fallen to her death in a shallow creek, and while investigations conclude it to be an accident, her friend and housemate, Vera, remains unconvinced. 

After learning that Greta was the widow of a prominent anti-Nazi German preacher, Sinclair meets with the distraught Vera, and he resolves to dig deeper into the story. His investigations lead him to the stately manor of Julia Lesage, where she lives with her devoted staff that includes her secretary, cook, and driver. Though confined to a wheelchair, Julia is an electrifying spirit with a sharp wit, and those who know her adore her. 

Among those who do, a gentleman with dubious business dealings is also staying at the house--and Julia appears to be in love with him. A blizzard hits, keeping Sinclair, and later Madden, on the grounds with little to do but analyze the case of Greta's death, until a murder takes place, and everyone becomes a suspect.

Author: Rennie Airth
First Release: 2020
ISBN: 978-0143134299
Publisher: Penguin Books