My contribution this week to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise is O is for Old Flames.
Old Flames is the fourth book chronologically in the Troy novels series by John Lawton.
In Old Flames Frederick Troy, now a Chief Inspector has moved on to 1956 where an impoverished Britain faces the problem of a state visit by Marshal Bulganin and First Secretary Nikita Khruschev. This is the height of the Cold War and Russian speaking Troy is co-opted to be part of the team providing security to the visitors.
'I won't spy on Marshal Bulganin.'
'I told yer,' muttered Cobb.
'But I will spy on Khruschev.'
Troy travels to Portsmouth to meet up with the Russians, who are arriving by battleship, and over breakfast he meets Arnold Cockerell, a furniture salesman.
'I'm in sales myself,' Cockerell began. 'Just another working day for me, another early start. Still, it's the early bird catches the worm.'
There turns out to be more to Cockerell than selling sofas, and what starts out as a spy story involving a tour round East End pubs with Krushchev, and meeting up with an old flame, Larissa Tosca ex -US Army, and possibly ex-KGB, develops into a complex hunt for a ruthless killer.
I am a total fan of the Troy series and the only thing stopping me devouring the remaining two books in the series is I can't bear the thought of not having a Troy on the TBR shelf.
With most of the characters from Blackout returning, including Kolankiewicz [the most foul-mouthed, bloody-minded, cantakerous creature to walk the earth], Larissa, Jack Wildeve, and Onions, this is another brilliant portrait of Britain at the height of its post war gloom. The 1950s were the era for many of paraffin stoves, outside toilets, fog, bomb sites and holidays hop picking in Kent, or on the beach at Margate.
John Lawton, who calls his books a 'social history of my time', brilliantly captures the essence of those bleak years with shortish but very evocative sentences.
'The small dining room was full. Men with moustaches. Men in brown suits, who all seemed to know each other, and to be deeply submerged in greasy eggs, greasy bacon, greasy, milky tea and knowing shop talk. A smell of stale tobacco and hair oil glided across the worst that breakfast could exhale.'
The blending of real life characters and events within the fictional story is achieved smoothly and the whole book was just a pleasure to read.
I was on the lookout for the trademark Lawton deliberate mistake, and found it buried on page 324.
'He bought me a martini and I was desperate for a ciggy by then, and he took out two from his cigarette case, put them in his mouth, just like Humphrey Bogart. Lit up both and passed one to me. I thought that was so good mannered. So romantic.'