Saturday, May 21, 2011

John Lawton's "Troy" series

Troy is a Scotland Yard detective. John Lawton has written a book series of historically based espionage fiction set in the time frame from mid-1930's to the early 1960's that have captured my attention recently. Captured is the right word, as I have read three of these 400+ page books in the last two weeks and am half-way through the fourth in this seven book series. When you can't sleep, books like these are a godsend.

As always with this genre, when a good writer comes along the book cover dredges up a comparison to John LeCarre. That comparison may ring true for many, but not being one that has ever been taken by LeCarre, Charles McCarry comes to mind here. Nothing can really compare to McCarry, but in the sense of creating an alternative world of characters that move in and out of different time frames in no linear order, Lawton is in the same rarified territory. Each book takes a different period or an overlapping one and continues the main story, as if starting with Lawton's first book in 1996 the overall chronology was already in development.

Reading here completely out of order, there is no problem picking up the threads and tying it all together. Introduced to the series by picking up at the local library his most recent 2010 continuation of the series, "The Lily of the Field", I have backtracked to various other periods depending on what the library had to offer. "The Lily of the Field" and "Second Violin"(2007) are both as intensely or perhaps more intensely focused on the historical attributes of their time built around WWII as they are the murder that our detective Troy must solve. "Flesh Wounds"(2005) is set in the late 1950's and, while absorbing, is more focused on the lead characters and the mystery than it is on history and in that sense is, from this perspective, not the stellar read that the previous two mentioned turned out to be. In my hands now, "A Little White Death" is set in the early 1960's and is 100 pages in solely focused on Cold War spy shenanigans and no mystery at all. That's to some extent preferred.

Lawton's writing is for the most part easy flowing and literate, except for the occasional times that he stretches to be consciously literate. McCarry never does that while maintaining an extraordinarily consistent descriptive tone. That's a big difference but the historical work by Lawton is at times exceptional.

As an example, he describes the effort by the English to move an elderly Freud to England after the Nazis had moved into Austria. While Freud wants to stay in Vienna, he is convinced by his English friends that everything will soon deteriorate, and they most certainly do later with the Austrian brown shirts killing and looting indiscrimanately and unchecked in Jewish neighborhoods. Freud reluctantly agreed to leave, and upon doing so the Nazis required him to sign a document saying that he had been treated well by them and could live and work in freedom there etc. When the Nazi functionary arrived with the document Freud obligingly and politely signed and asked if could also write an endorsement. The military functionary allowed it, and Freud wrote "I can heartily recommend the Gestapo to anyone". With great thanks Hitler's emissary left, as did Freud.

Those kinds of anecdotes based on historical research are worth the time with some of these books even if the "mystery" is not the end game in brilliance.

A few of Lawton's books have received recognition in their genre, but "The Lily of the Field" was one of the New York Times Book Reviews top 50 books for 2010. I am not alone.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just read "Lily of the Field" in two nights. Thanks, terrific book.

xo, susie

3:33 PM  

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