Sunday, April 8, 2012

Second Violin: John Lawton

Description from Publisher's Weekly review:
"Lawton's engrossing sixth entry but the first chronologically in his Inspector Troy thriller series (Black Out, etc.) chronicles the major events leading up to WWII--Germany's annexation of Austria, Chamberlain's peace efforts, Kristallnacht--while providing a disturbing picture of anti-Semitism and class frictions in England at the time."

In my review of the fourth novel in the series, Bluffing Mr. Churchill, I noted the quandary regarding whether to read the novels in order by publication or in chronological order. I read the first four books in this series in publication order, then decided to jump to the #6 in the series based on reviews I had read that suggested reading that one first.

Based on my experience, I am going with reading the series in order of publication. Others disagree. They are all great books. In reading reviews for the last book published, A Lily of the Field, it appears that it starts even earlier than this one, then ends in 1948.  One review I read (at Mysteries in Paradise) for that book suggests some difficulty with starting the series with that book.

And from this review of A Lily of the Field at The Independent:
"Inevitably, the series's habit of doubling back on itself means that there are some nuances which will not occur to someone who picks up one of the later books as their first excursion into Lawton's fog-gloomed world."
Personally I would suggest reading at least the original three first. I am glad I read the first four in the series first, because I liked coming to this one knowing something about most of the characters. I might have liked it just as well the other way around. Impossible to know at this point. My favorite book in the series so far was Bluffing Mr. Churchill, and this one was a close second.

John Lawton states, on a page of Q&A at his website, that he does not see his novels in this series as mysteries.
"I don't like whodunits.  I don't write them.  I don't read them. I accept the label 'mystery' because the U.S. needs a label to market me.  The English don't tag me that way."
I agree, they are not merely mysteries, but I see them as historical novels with elements of the police procedural, since the main recurring character is a member of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad. Most of the series are a mix of historical novel, mystery, and espionage. This one, however, lacks the espionage component, and the mystery is subordinate to the main story, which is not unusual in Lawton's books.

This book also features much more background on Troy's family, primarily his father, a newspaper publisher who immigrated from Russia, and his older brother, a journalist. In this book I enjoyed the portions that covered historical events more than the mystery elements.  Troy features in both parts.

From March 4th through April 4th of this year I have read 6 fiction books with World War II as a major theme. Two were written during the war (Heads You Lose and Green for Danger by Christianna Brand) and four were historical novels (three of those were mysteries).  World War II and the events leading up to and following the war are among my favorite reading topics; thus I was predisposed to like this book. It met or exceeded all my expectations.

If you are looking for a whodunit, a straight mystery, this book might not appeal. If you lean more towards cozy mysteries, this one is not in that sub-genre. Otherwise, I would definitely recommend this book.

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
Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge

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