Saturday, September 11, 2010

BLUE RONDO: JOHN LAWTON



I have found reading all these Scandinavian crime books can be a bit depressing, for instance, although I enjoyed Silence by Jan Costin Wagner it was a very bleak story.

There is another of John Lawton's Troy novels, A Lily of the Field, out in a few weeks therefore I decided to catch up with the remaining Lawton's on my TBR shelf and read Blue Rondo [Flesh Wounds in the USA], my fifth book in this series. I guessed it would provide a few laughs amid the normal quota of dead bodies, and I could become reacquainted with one of my favourite detectives, Frederick Troy.

Chief Superintendent Frederick Troy, the jazz loving hero of this series is a subtle blend of James Bond, Bulldog Drummond, Biggles and Endeavour Morse; a short, dark, demonic -looking elf of a man with a list of female conquests that make Ian Fleming's hero seem almost monk-like in comparison.

'Depends, Troy said. "On what you want from it. I have pretty much what I want out at Mimram-pig in its pen, vegetables green and growing in the kitchen garden, all the Art Tatum records money can buy. There's even a river Mimram at the bottom of the garden. If I fished I'd hang out a sign that said "Gone fishin'" whenever I felt like it.'
'But you're still a copper.'

Blue Rondo, after an introductory chapter set during the war, moves on to 1959, a time when criminal gangs fought for control of London, and champagne socialists and property sharks planned to bulldoze old properties and put up modern high rise flats in their place.
This policy would destroy the old communities of the East End and South London, that had survived the Blitz, and create new modern slums where no one knew their neighbours, or cared about them.

Alf Marx, King of the East End has been sent down for life, his second in command Bernie Champion is missing, presumed dead. A new ruthless criminal gang is moving in to the vacuum left behind.
The Ryan twins own clubs where the rich and famous are proud to be seen enjoying their opulent lifestyle. The Ryans want power, and they are prepared to bargain for political influence and kill coppers to get it.
The complex plot of Blue Rondo involves dismembered bodies showing up across London, Troy's family playing their exotic games, Troy's former lover Kitty Stilton reappearing as Kate Cormack, wife of Senator Cal Cormack a presidential hopeful, and Kate being trailed by an ex New York policeman now a private eye, to ensure her sexual activities don't find their way into the American press.

He tried an American version of counting sheep, working out out the names of all those presidents who had been bachelors , not trusting Kitty's knowledge of history any more than he'd trust her knowledge of quantum physics.

John Lawton has called his books a social history of our time, and it is his ability to blend his fictional characters in with real life people of the time, and some outwardly fictional thinly disguised real life characters that adds to the evocative atmosphere of London in the 1950s.
Alf Marx is probably Jack Spot, and the demise of his Jewish mob was brought about by the murderous Kray twins [the Ryans], while Lord Steele, their upper class friend seeking young "rough trade" is a thinly disguised version of Lord Boothby.
They are all waiting for the 1959 General Election, which they think will bring Labour to power, and Freddie's brother the slightly naive Rodryon into the office of Home Secretary.

Lawton writes about the decadent and corrupt atmosphere of London of the time, but he does it with such charm that you can forgive him the coincidences, and the outrageous sexual shenanigans. He creates such wonderful characters, plays with them, and then puts them in interesting situations.
There are a lot of characters from the previous books, who make small cameo or slightly longer appearances, such as the crazy Polish pathologist, Kolankiewicz, Chief Inspect Jack Wildeve, Shirley Foxx, Tosca...........

Now it was scent. Something familiar but unplaceable. The upper frequencies of Dior? With the toothbrush still sticking out of the side of his mouth , he pushed open the bedroom door, and saw the round bump of Kitty's backside in his bed. He could not fault her timing. At once appropriate and awful.

This is a fantastic series, and you don't have to be Londoner to enjoy the books although it helps. They are full of British eccentricity, cockney stereotypes [because people were really like that], upper class promiscuous toffs [because people were really like that] and political and social comment that seems just as relevant today. If you want to read a great crime series full of intelligence, and written with real style, John Lawton's Troy series will both amuse, excite and educate you.

Here are my reviews of the other books, and some further information:

Riptide 2001
Blackout [published as Bluffing Mr Churchill in the USA] 1995
Blue Rondo [published as Flesh Wounds in the USA] 2005
A Little White Death 1998

You can read more about the Troy series here and Blue Rondo here.
I have to thank Crimeficreader for introducing me to this author.
Here is her review of Second Violin and her essay on the Troy books.

'Truth is she's cock-a-hoop. She's been let out of a loveless marriage. No messy divorce. No shyster lawyers.'
'Was she contemplating divorce?'
'Don't be naive, Freddie. She was contemplating shooting the bastard. She has every day for years as we both know.'

2 Comments:

Blogger Margot Kinberg said...

Norman - Thanks for this review. I like the sense of atmosphere that I get just from reading your review, so I daresay the book does a terrific job of conveying 1950's London. Definitely I'm interested in reading this one!

4:56 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot- I know you are a busy lady, but this series is fantastic, and well worth reading from the start.
Some of the best features of the England he describes have long gone, but the worst of the others corruption, political chicanery, a rigid class system [admittedly slightly revised and based more on money] and an influential group, who want to see the democratic system collapse, are still with us.

6:29 AM  

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