Book, screen, stage, festival & event reviews.
There’s a song, dating back to 1935, that epitomises British culture and includes the line “Everything stops for tea”. Well I can give the old tea a miss, but there are some writers whose books stop the clock for me. When the next one comes out, I have to have it on the dot and the routine boring domestic things of life are put on hold for some extremely enjoyable reading. Since about 1996, when I first picked up “Black Out”, this applied to the books of John Lawton. His latest, “Blue Rondo”, was out in April of this year. So before I continue with this blog and let you know my thoughts on books I read, as and when, I thought I’d back track a little and tell you about Lawton and his wonderful protagonist Frederick Troy, plus the amazing cast of characters around the resilient Freddie, because in April, everything stopped for Troy for me.
Freddie is the son of a Russian immigrant father in the UK. His eclectic family is wealthy, with a “pile” in Hertfordshire, being a mix of newspaper owners and managers and academics. Freddie, however is a bit different, with all that money behind him, he wants to be and loves being a policeman, making a success of it and rising to the top. If you read the books in the order written, we first meet him during WWII, in London and during the Blitz. Some kids find some body parts in the East End, but it’s not due to the bombing, this is possibly a murder of another sort on home soil. “Black Out” is brilliant for its evocation of the period, at the very least. When I read the book, I believed it had been written by someone quite old, who had actually had the experience of living through the Blitz. That’s how good it was. But more on the author later. “Black Out” mixes straight London policing and detective work with a bit of espionage and pig farming. Yes, I did say pig farming.
The second book in the series is “Old Flames” when we move into the Cold War period. Freddie, being a Russian speaker, is so well placed to assist in one case. Again the mix of policing and espionage, and again, so evocative of the period. After I read this I persuaded a friend to read it too (as well as “Black Out”). Her comments on “Old Flames” included the following – “When I read the passage about Churchill walking towards Troy in the House of Commons, I felt I was there.”
Lawton moved on to book three in the series “A Little White Death”. In this book, we hit 1963 and Freddie is involved in investigating a case not too far away from the real “Profumo” case of its day. And now, it is also poignant to point out that Lawton’s books, although fiction, sometimes include real public figures in a fictional capacity. Not so much here with “A Little White Death”, but this is a feature of his books.
Having moved on to 1963 and an older Freddie, it seemed like there was little room for the future, so the next book “Riptide” took us back to the pre-“Black Out” days, when young Freddie was a mere rookie. As a novice, one noticeable element of this book was that he did not feature so much, but it certainly set the scene for his life to come and his back story as well those around him.
Then we move on to “Blue Rondo”, which deals with the emergence of villainous gangs in the East End in and from the 1950s.
But don’t stop there. The above is just a skeleton of what’s in the books. They also infused with Troy’s very troubled love and marital life; political considerations as part of the plots; Troy’s need to be independent; wonderful humour; and Troy’s willingness to see a “bigger picture” beyond the convoluted crime at hand, including more than one way to deal with it. So, OK, you’re thinking possibly, “Another maverick cop with issues”. Yes, he is, but the delightful Freddie is pure class and the writing is exemplary.
I believe the marketing around Lawton’s books has not been optimal for such excellent books. Most fellow crime fiction readers to whom I mention his name have not heard of him. I was lucky in I picked up a copy of “Black Out” by pure chance, making the third in the 2 for 3 offer at the time. Now, I’m hooked and “Blue Rondo” was a superb read for me, earlier this year. I thought it was the best yet in the series.
On the basis that a couple of friends of mine love Robert Wilson’s Falcon series (as I do), I suggested they try Lawton’s Troy. Both are now embarking on the series and loving it.
So the books are, in order of writing:
A Little White Death
Blue Rondo (currently in hardback, paperback due in March 2006).
(Note: titles in North America differ.)
About the author:
Well, not too much is in the public domain. The author information on the cover of Blue Rondo is the craziest and most tongue in cheek, I’ve ever read. But earlier books and publisher site information tell us that Mr Lawton is a TV producer (documentaries) who turned his hand to writing about five years ago. He divides his time between Derbyshire (where he grows leeks) and New York.
An interesting interview with the author here:
Two excellent articles here:
I’m now wondering how long I have to wait for the next in the series.