Last week I promised to write about a novelist who uses the past history of England, as a backdrop to his books, to rather better advantage (in my opinion) than Jake Arnott. His name is John Lawton, and he writes books which are in the crime fiction/thriller category. Comparators: Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, perhaps.
Lawton is reportedly a retired TV producer who has turned to writing fiction; and he does it extremely well. In 1995 he began with Black Out, which, as the title suggests, is set in the second world war -- 1944 to be precise. We are immediately introduced to his lead character, a policeman called Frederick Troy. At this stage of his career Troy is a mere Sergeant, but he has an intriguing background, being the son of a distinguished Russian emigre. Lawton provides us with not just a good thriller, but an intriguing set of insights into what wartime conditions were really like -- as opposed to many of the myths.
In 1996 Lawton produced Old Flames, which is set in 1956. Here Lawton again develops his plot against the background of real events, in this case chiefly the visit to London by the two Russian leaders, Bulganin and Krushchev. A real-life embarrassing incident, when British intelligence seem to have lost one of their operatives while trying to spy on the Russian duo, features heavily. And Troy, you will remember, is the son of a Russian and so speaks the language.
Third in the series (1998) is A Little White Death, set in 1963. Amazon lists a non-fiction book called 1963: Five Hundred Days, which is also by one John Lawton, and I think it must be the same author. The year 1963 was a big one in English history, being flanked by the unmasking of a Russian spy at the end of 1962 and the Beatles first trip to America in early 1964. In between we had a few things like the Profumo scandal and the resignation of a Prime Minister. It is against this background that we see Troy in action yet again.
Fourth in the Troy series is Riptide, in which Lawton takes us back to 1941, but still with the same lead character. And a fifth book, Blue Rondo, is due for publication in March next year. That one is to be set in the late 1950s.
Lawton seems to have spent some considerable time in the US, because he has also published a novel with an American background in much the same style as his Troy series. This is Sweet Sunday. The lead character here is Tudor Raines, a New York private eye, and the date is 1969: Vietnam, Woodstock, et cetera. I did not personally find this as interesting as the books set in England, but US readers would probably hold the reverse view.
All in all, Lawton is a literate, thoughtful and skilled writer in a genre which is often regarded as inferior to the literary novel. The latter view is complete balls, of course, and most people, fortunately, have the good sense to ignore it.