Lawton, John 1949-
LAWTON, John 1949-
PERSONAL: Born 1949, in Derbyshire, England.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Viking Books Publicity, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: BBC filmmaker and novelist.
Black Out, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
Old Flames, Orion (London, England), 1997, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2003.
A Little White Death, Weidenfeld Nicolson (London, England), 1998.
Riptide, Orion (London, England), 2002, published as Bluffing Mr. Churchill, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Flesh Wounds, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2005.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Other novels in the "Frederick Troy" series.
SIDELIGHTS: John Lawton had already made a name for himself as a filmmaker for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) when he published his first novel, Black Out. Black Out begins in London during World War II, shortly before D-Day. Body parts are discovered at a bombed site, including an arm. Yet the dismembered pieces show evidence of being severed from their owners by a saw rather than an artillery explosion. The case is investigated by Detective Sergeant Frederick Troy, whose membership in a wealthy, elite Russian family causes him to be treated "with an uneasy combination of respect and suspicion" by his coworkers at Scotland Yard, according to a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. Troy discovers the victim to be Bertoldt Brand, a scientist from Nazi Germany who had specialized in rocketry and who had disappeared along with others from his team.
The hunt for the killer leads Troy to the American military and high levels of command, including the mysterious Office of Special Services and Major Jimmy Wayne. Wayne has an alibi, having been in a meeting with generals Eisenhower and Patton at the time of Brand's murder. As he attempts to determine the true reason for Wayne's presence in England, Troy is shot, stabbed, and bombed. The novel concludes after the end of World War II, hinting at the dawn of the Cold War.
A Kirkus Reviews contributor stated that in Black Out, Lawton displays "an urban documentariast's eye and ear for his jangled world—London has seldom seemed quite so foreign—and a nasty sense of how little slips can indeed sink ships." Booklist reviewer George Needham found that "in all of its complexity and paranoid plausibility, this thriller resembles a very good John Buchan or John le Carre novel." Reviewing Black Out for Chicago Tribune Books, Dick Adler felt there were "perhaps too many" icons from the films and books of World War II included in the narrative; however, he added that what makes the book "almost compulsive reading" are the backgrounds against which they "come together."
Frederick Troy returned in the novel Old Flames. This story is set in 1956, ten years after Black Out. In an interview with Adam Dunn for Publishers Weekly, Lawton commented that the events of 1956, including the Suez canal crisis, were pivotal for many British people. It was "when we were forced to recognize that we didn't run this planet anymore, the Americans did," he mused. In the novel, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev comes to London; Troy is assigned to escort him around the city and try to pick up any intelligence he can, as well. Shortly after the Soviet leader's departure, a British diver is discovered floating dead; he apparently was a spy who died while monitoring Krushchev's ship. Troy must now discern whether or not the Soviets are manipulating the incident to advance the Cold War. The book is a "complex, evocative tale" that works on several levels, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who further described it as "an effective genre-bending novel that is at once a cerebral thriller and an uproarious, deliciously English spoof." Booklist reviewer David Pitt also recommended Old Flames, commenting, "The intriguing mystery plus the wonderfully re-created period setting equals first-class storytelling." And a Kirkus Reviews writer found that "Lawton's brooding, sophisticated prose effectively captures a troubled era. Peopled by flawed adults struggling to know and act on the truth in a time of moral turmoil, Old Flames is unforgettable."
The Frederick Troy novels continue with Bluffing Mr. Churchill, set back during the war, and Flesh Wounds, occurring fourteen years later. Flesh Wounds has plots and subplots that take the story back and forth from the last years of the war to 1959. MBR Bookwatch reviewer, Harriet Klausner wrote, "Fans will appreciate this deep but dark look back to two distinct Great Britain's only fifteen years apart within a fine Noir."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Armchair Detective, spring, 1996, p. 176; fall, 1996, p. 402.
Booklist, April 15, 1995, p. 1483; November 15, 2002, David Pitt, review of Old Flames, p. 581; December 15, 2003, review of Bluffing Mr. Churchill, p. 731.
Chicago Tribune Books, May 7, 1995, p. 6.
Christian Science Monitor, July 27, 1995, p. B1.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1995, p. 416; November 1, 2002, review of Old Flames, p. 1556; November 1, 2003, review of Bluffing Mr. Churchill, p. 1290; January 1, 2005, review of Flesh Wounds, p. 23.
Library Journal, January, 2004, Fred Gervat, review of Bluffing Mr. Churchill, p. 157.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 14, 1995, p. 11.
MBR Bookwatch, May, 2005, Harriet Klausner, review of Flesh Wounds.
New York Times Book Review, May 28, 1995, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, March 13, 1995, p. 59; June 3, 1996, p. 80; December 9, 2002, review of Old Flames, p. 62, Adam Dunn, interview with John Lawton, p. 63; December 8, 2003, review of Bluffing Mr. Churchill, p. 46; January 24, 2005, review of Flesh Wounds, p. 219.
Bookreporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (February 11, 2003), Kate Ayers, review of Old Flames.*