Today I am delighted to join the blog tour for latest release from author John Lawton, Friends and Traitors. My thanks to Ayo Onatade for inviting me to join the tour. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the book in just a moment, as soon as we’ve taken a look at what the book is all about.
About the Book
It is 1958. Chief Superintendent Frederick Troy of Scotland Yard, newly promoted after good service during Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to Britain, is not looking forward to a Continental trip with his older brother, Rod. Rod was too vain to celebrate being fifty so instead takes his entire family on ‘the Grand Tour’ for his fifty-first birthday: Paris, Siena, Florence, Vienna, Amsterdam. Restaurants, galleries and concert halls. But Frederick Troy never gets to Amsterdam.
After a concert in Vienna he is approached by an old friend whom he has not seen for years – Guy Burgess, a spy for the Soviets, who says something extraordinary: ‘I want to come home.’ Troy dumps the problem on MI5 who send an agent to debrief Burgess – but when the man is gunned down only yards from the embassy, the whole plan unravels with alarming speed and Troy finds himself a suspect.
As he fights to prove his innocence, Troy discovers that Burgess is not the only ghost who has returned to haunt him…
This is the first book by John Lawton that I have read and i must admit it was quite an intriguing read catching up with Frederick Troy and his family and acquaintances. Taking place over a number of years, it charts the course of his friendship with journalist, Soviet Spy and eventual defector, Guy Burgess. Now while Burgess is very much a real life character, this is a fictionalised retelling of his story, albeit very carefully imagined.
Now I don’t want to spend much time discussing plot as in reality, you have all you need to know from the paragraph above and the blurb. We are taken from Troy’s first introduction to Burgess at a dinner party held by his father when Troy is just about to join the police force, all the way through to the eventual conclusion of Troy’s involvement with Burgess. As such, although Burgess floats in an out of Troy’s life, causing him no small amount of upset and inconvenience along the way, this is not a fast paced story and indeed, with much scene setting, there is nothing much which occurs in terms of absolute intrigue in the first half of the novel. It is only after Burgess’ defection and his re-acquaintance with Troy while he is on a tour of Europe, that things start to get a little … messy shall we say. If you are looking for spills and thrills, then this is not the novel for you.
What this book does provide is an interesting look back into the varying stages of Troy’s life and his relationship with his brother and Burgess as the two cross over and intersect. It also provides a very beautiful narrative, rich in historical recreation, which puts the reader at first in the highly political interlude just prior to World War Two, the heart of the blitz, and those highly fractious years following the end of the war, where Soviet influence is on the rise and the spies are rife in all quarters. This is very much a ‘spook’ infused novel, not one in which state secrets are revealed, but one sees Troy involved with the Security Services far more than perhaps he would like.
As my first introduction to Troy I have to say I found his character fascinating. I don’t know how far his character in this book is informed by previous novels, but it was interesting to see him evolve across the years, from fresh faced recruit, aware of the goings on of Burgess and his friends but perhaps a little naive and unsure, to a man who was far more confident, if a little jaded, one more certain in how to handle his errant friend following much adversity in his life. I would certainly be keen to go back and see how this book fits in with the other stories, spanning as much of Troy’s life as it has. I loved to see the twisting and complicated evolution of his romantic relationships and personal friendships unfold and would like to know more of their beginnings
Burgess was another richly drawn character, larger than life and full of twice the innuendo. He was most certainly a complete threat to those around him, not only a spy but a gay spy in an era where such a lifestyle was completely unconscionable. And to that end, if you are easily offended by homophobia you may wish to approach this book with caution. While not overly offensive, or perhaps gratuitously used, the language is of the time and far from what one would deem politically correct nowadays. It is key in its sense of authenticity but perhaps jarring to (hopefully) more modern and enlightened sensibilities.
All in all this was a really interesting story which, for me at least, really captured a sense of the era, both in description of setting, both sides of the English Channel, and also in portrayal of attitude and character. It is clear the author has a love for his character and for the historical ear in which to book is set and this flows through the narrative beautifully. Although I was uncertain of Troy to begin with, he very much grew on me and it is a character I would be keen to learn more about. Good job I have books I can look back to as my wait will be much shorter now.
Friends and Traitors is available now from the following retailers:
About the Author
John Lawton is a producer/director in television who has spent much of his time interpreting the USA to the English, and occasionally vice versa. He has worked with Gore Vidal, Neil Simon, Scott Turow, Noam Chomsky, Fay Weldon, Harold Pinter and Kathy Acker.
He thinks he may well be the only TV director ever to be named in a Parliamentary Bill in the British House of Lords as an offender against taste and balance—he has also been denounced from the pulpit in Mississippi as a “Communist,” but thinks that less remarkable.
John Lawton spent most of the 90s in New York—among other things attending the writers’ sessions at The Actors’ Studio under Norman Mailer—and has visited or worked in more than half the 50 states—since 2000 he has lived in the high, wet hills of Derbyshire England, with frequent excursions into the high, dry hills of Arizona and Italy.
He is the author of 1963, a social and political history of the Kennedy-Macmillan years, six thrillers in the Troy series and a stand-alone novel, Sweet Sunday. In 1995 the first Troy novel, Black Out, won the WH Smith Fresh Talent Award. In 2006 Columbia Pictures bought the fourth Troy novel Riptide. In 2007 A Little White Death was a New York Times notable. In 2008 he was one of only half a dozen living English writers to be named in the London Daily Telegraph‘s “50 Crime Writers to Read before You Die.” He has also edited the poetry of D.H. Lawrence and the stories of Joseph Conrad.
He is devoted to the work of Franz Schubert, Cormac McCarthy, Art Tatum, and Barbara Gowdy.
Make sure ot follow the tour: