Friends and Traitors by John Lawton #BookReview #BlogTour

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…

It's my pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for Friends and Traitors by John Lawton today, many thanks to the author, publishers and Ayo Onatade for inviting me and for my ecopy of the novel.
Friends and Traitors is the eighth book to feature Frederick Troy but the first I have read. Fortunately the books can be read as standalones although I intend to go back and read the rest of the series now because I suspect that there are recurrent characters whom long term readers enjoy seeing appear again and I perhaps missed out on that. However, this is not meant as a criticism of the book, I only have myself to blame for not discovering Troy earlier.
As the description above explains, in 1958 Chief Superintendent Frederick Troy is approached by an old friend - a fictionalised version of Guy Burgess. Troy, and readers of Friends and Traitors are first introduced to Burgess however, at a dinner party held by Troy's father in 1935. Troy is about to join the police force and is a naive innocent who is both repelled and drawn to Burgess. The book then follows the occasional meetings between the pair over the course of many years as Troy rises through the police ranks and Guy becomes ever more notorious. There are hints here of Troy's investigations in other books as we see him become more worldly. He is a fascinating character, with his own (arguably dubious) moral code which often sees him at odds with his superiors and under suspicion himself - yet for all his flaws there is no doubt that he is a superb detective.
Troy doesn't have any real investigating to do until some way through the book as the convoluted plot meanders through time to explain just how he ends up meeting Guy Burgess in Vienna twenty-three years after their first introduction. In the intervening years their paths have crossed only a few times and on each occasion Troy is left feeling relieved that their interactions are brief - though there can be no denying that he is drawn to Burgess' hedonistic disregard for societal mores. As the son of Russian émigrés, who grew up speaking French but was born and educated in England, Troy always feels an interloper and perhaps it is inevitable that he should feel some affinity to other outsiders.
John Lawton explains at the end of the book that his interpretation of Guy Burgess is a fiction based on a real man and not a representation of the real man but he is entirely believable; a charismatic, louche, almost grotesque figure who delights in shocking people and turns his risk-taking promiscuity into almost an art-form. At a time when homosexuality was still illegal in England he flaunts his proclivity for dangerous liaisons and teases Troy who tries to explain that when a serving policeman turns a blind eye, it's better that it stays blind,
"What is the old adage? In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed trouser snake is king."
 By the time he and Troy meet again in Vienna, however, he has become a forlorn, rather pathetic figure who lists everything he misses about England in a tragicomic scene as he begs Troy to help him return home. After the MI5 agent sent to debrief Burgess is shot, the tension in the novel increases as Troy is caught up in the shady world of Cold War espionage; someone was following Frederick Troy becomes a familiar refrain, almost comic at first but more sinister later as it grows ever more clear that Troy's liberty and perhaps even his life is threatened as he becomes a person of interest for various organisations.
This isn't a book for lovers of fast-paced thrillers; its complex, intelligent and fragmented plot means it should be savoured rather than raced through. Though never meant to be read as anything other than fiction, the sense of the period is captured perfectly, from the attitudes of the time to the political and societal impact of the old school network and the long shadow cast by the defection of the Cambridge Five. The sharp lightness of John Lawton's writing about a dark time in the nation's history meant that this sometimes angry, often humorous, literary crime novel reminded me more of Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse than of other crime writers. Friends and Traitors is an exceptional book; it was an absolute treat to read and I'm overjoyed to have finally discovered this series and author. I highly recommend it.

Friends and Traitors is published in the UK by Grove Press and can be purchased here. Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

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.