Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Here is my contribution to this week's Crime Fiction Alphabet meme at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise.

This meme is like a game of chess as you will have to think three or four moves [or letters] ahead, as it gets a bit tricky over the next few weeks.

My J is for John. John Lawton is author of the Troy novels, a series that he calls 'a social history of my time', and of mine too.

The series in chronological order:

Second Violin
Riptide [Bluffing Mr Churchill in the USA]
Old Flames
Blue Rondo [Flesh Wounds in the USA]
A Little White Death

I was encouraged to read John Lawton by Crimeficreader, whose excellent essay on the Troy series you can read here.
This was written some time before John Lawton went back in time to write Second Violin as a superb prequel.

I have only read the first two, Second Violin and Riptide, both were so good I decided to postpone reading the rest of the series, saving them to be enjoyed at a later date.

John Lawton is not a high profile author, and he seems to actively avoid publicity. Perhaps that is the reason why his work is not better known, because the books are definitely of the highest quality. He blends real life characters into a fictional story making it both credible, and at the same time capturing the atmosphere of wartime London. He also has the ability, which seems to escape some authors, to portray cockney characters without producing dialogue that sounds twee.
He grabs the reader and takes them with him on a roller coaster journey especially in Second Violin with its astonishingly brilliant descriptions of Kristallnacht, and the internment of aliens on the Isle of Man.

The novels which tell the story of Frederick and Rod Troy, sons of Russian emigre Alexi Troy, and a multitude of other interesting characters are full of humour, truthfulness, and have a refreshing lack of sentimentality. They are a little bit different from the average crime fiction novel, if there is such a thing, and are well worth reading if you want to be educated and even amused by the behaviour of human beings under incredible stress.

The last book in the series A Little White Death is set in 1963 at the time of the Christine Keeler /John Profumo scandal and on the back cover is the blurb, 'A Harley Street physician blows his brains out.'

My father had a small hardware shop in Chelsea during the 'swinging sixties', and that Harley Street physician was a good customer, so I feel a kind of connection to the Troy series.


Blogger crimeficreader said...

Thanks for the mention. Looking forward to the next one from Lawton and hope it's coming in 2010!

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman - I'm so glad you mentioned Crimeficreader's excellent blog. It's well worth a follow. So is Lawton's work : ).

10:55 AM  
Blogger Kerrie said...

Thanks for this contribution Norman. I agree - things are going to get a bit tricky with some letters. I am viewing X with some trepidation - I have Q worked out I think - although it now occurs to me that the title I had in mind doesn't start with Q - drat!

I haven't read any Lawton. Looks like I need to remedy that.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

Nice post, Norman, and very useful re the order! I have had this author on my list for a long time - originally due to CFR's recommendation and championship. I was going to take one of his books on holiday with me this year but unfortunately was one of those jettisoned owning to weight issues ;-) (Black Out). I will certainly read him one of these days. Thanks again for a fascinating post, as ever!

1:21 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Kerrie, I have one lined up for X, crime non-fiction is that allowed.

Thanks Crimeficreader, Margot, and Maxine for your comments.
The problem with this meme is that is reminding me of all the books I want to read and haven't got the time.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

I am so pleased you chose Lawton, Norman. Just goes to prove what I said the other day about your unerring good judgement. As you say, he's not high-profile, and it's been quite some time since you, Rhian and I were all trying to spread the good word about him, with Peter R, I recall, joining in that. But then one hears nothing more of such as he while constantly tripping over certain others with a talent for self-promotion, if not so much for writing crime fiction, and a taste for ingratiating at conferences. I rank Lawton first among those who set crime fiction in the war years, just a personal preference, but all his novels, wartime and post-war, are straight out of the top drawer and on my A+ list.

1:14 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Philip it was Rhian who nudged me into the Lawton camp, and very kindly sent me four or five books in the series after I name dropped that my father knew Stephen Ward. I can't take any credit for discovering Lawton, but will spread the word of their excellence as I read through them.

3:07 AM  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

Never read any of his books. Will check him out. Thanks!

Here is my Crime Fiction Alphabet: J post!

5:31 AM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kerrie, may I suggest Qiu Xiaolong for X, though Qiu is the family name. For such a difficult letter (and such a fine novel as Death of a Red Heroine), you may safely be given a pass. Of course, you'd hate to rob from Q to pay X.

Yes, Peter R joined those singing Lawton's praises, and I hope to read more of the Troy novels once some pesky deadlines are out of the way. Thanks to Rhiann and Norman for introducing me to John Lawton. What a superb evocation of its time and place Second Violin is! What affectingly mundane tragedy and sharp social comedy! What daring invocations of P.G. Wodehouse!

(My verification word may be of interest: inglan)

1:44 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Here's a measure of a fine author -- I had a brief moment of panic yesterday when it seemed to me an awfully long time since a Lawton appeared. Had something happened to him? Had I missed one? Hardly likely, for I've had library and google alerts out on him for years. I found, in fact, that it is only two years since Second Violin appeared. It seems more like ten to me, which is perhaps a function of the fact that he's produced only seven books over sixteen years and at somewhat irregular intervals. I enjoyed Sweet Sunday back in 2002, but I hope a seventh Troy is in the works.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Diana P said...

I agree, Lawton doesn't crop up very often, although he seems to have made an appearance at most of the UK festivals (except Hay) at least once over the past 15 years (I saw him at Cheltenham nearly 10 years ago), but I hear his next will be at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco. Perhaps he's moved to America? Does anyone know?

3:01 PM  

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