Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bluffing Mr. Churchill: John Lawton

Description from review at Publisher's Weekly:
"In this stimulating prequel to Lawton's acclaimed Inspector Troy series (Black Out; Old Flames; etc.), London is in the middle of the blitz and 25-year-old Freddie Troy is a Scotland Yard sergeant, chafing at the limits of his post. As the novel begins, he is relegated to the background, the focus instead on a gawky American named Calvin Cormack, who has come to London to help find and debrief Wolfgang Stahl, a top aide to Hitler's SS chief, Heydrich, and a spy for the Americans who has been forced to flee Germany for England to avoid capture..."

This book was the fourth book published in the Inspector Troy series by John Lawton -- and the fourth book I read in the series.  It was my favorite of the four I have completed. I found the first three confusing and slow at times. And the characters seemed less sympathetic. (It could have been me and my frame of mind when reading the books.) However, I persevered through each of the books and found the journey rewarding.

It is worth noting that Bluffing Mr. Churchill is set in 1941. Thus, chronologically it precedes the first  book in the series, Black OutBlack Out was set in 1944 (at the end of the Blitz). The second book, Old Flames, moves ahead to 1956, when Britain is still suffering the after effects of the war. The third book, A Little White Death, jumps forward to 1963. But if you order the series chronologically, A Little White Death is the seventh book in the series.

Some reviewers have suggested reading the series chronologically rather than in the order published. That disagrees with my personal rule: Always read a series as published. For this series, there are probably pros and cons no matter which way you go. Yes, you get back story on many of the characters in later books in the series, and, if you remember the details of the earlier books, you may know things about the characters you don't want to know. So far, it has not caused a problem for me. After this book, I decided to read Second Violin next, which begins in 1938, but was the sixth book published. I actually think I preferred reading them in this inverted order. In Second Violin, we get more background on Wolfgang Stahl and other characters central to this book ... So, I say ... maybe the order of reading does not matter.

On a page of Q&A at John Lawton's website, he answers the question about why the books jump around in time. Paraphrasing, he started out intending to write a trilogy, then later another author (Ariana Franklin) suggested he fill in the gaps. Which he has done with four additional books.

But to get back to my thoughts on this book. This one kept me interested throughout and I really liked all the "secondary" characters, although, as pointed out in the Publisher's Weekly review, a large part of the book covers Calvin Cormack and his relationship with Sergeant Stilton and his family. I have not felt that any of the books ended "happily" but they are not depressing. Realistic, I guess.

This book combines two of my favorite topics (especially in mystery novels): World War II and espionage.  I like books about the Cold War and this series covers that time period too. The British class system and the resentments it engenders are addressed, and we see the impact from both sides. That continues in Second Violin. The discrepancies in attitudes of the British and Americans in the early 1940's are also a focus.The fact that John Lawton writes so well makes it all the more enjoyable.

Lawton sees spies as the bad guys, as he states in this article: "I write what I call 'anti-spook' novels..."

"As Cormack told his tale, Troy found himself responding to it with a prism of feeling--to the end of the rainbow and all the way back again. He'd never understand the spooks if he lived to be a thousand. It seemed to require a degree of patriotism he could not imagine, a faith in one nation that defied intelligence. At the same time it was the biggest lie of all--all spooks were playing parts, all spooks were liars. Who, Troy wondered, did they see when they looked in the mirror?"

For me, this is a re-readable series. I have two more books to read after Second Violin. But I can easily see re-reading the whole series someday.

Another small thing that is unusual in these books is the way the chapter divisions are handled. The book is divided into a lot of very short chapters. This made it easy for me to read in short sessions when necessary and not lose the flow of the plot.  Sometimes with books that I cannot break away from easily, I end up stretching the book over several days when I can find longer periods to read.

This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge
A-Z Challenge
Finishing a Series Challenge
Merely Mystery Reading Challenge
Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge

1 comment:

Anna said...

I agree that you should read a series as published. I'm sure if you'd read the other books, you'd be able to follow it. ;) This sounds really good, and my husband just downloaded Black Out for us to share.