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by John Lawton

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-87113-932-4
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Turmoil and a scandalous trial rock the British Foreign Office, evoking both the Cambridge spies and the notorious Christine Keeler.

By 1963, Lawton’s hapless hero Frederick Troy (Bluffing Mr. Churchill, 2004, etc.) has risen to the post of Scotland Yard’s Chief Detective. When Troy sends a message to his lifelong friend Charlie Leigh-Hunt, who worked with him in the secret service during WWII, he’s disturbed to learn that Charlie’s vanished. Not coincidentally, Charlie’s sought for the ancient murder of Norman Cobb. Troy traces Charlie to Russia, an uncomfortable trip. (Troy’s father, suspected of spying for the Russians, was born there.) He finds that alcoholic Charlie has hooked up with Guy Burgess. Troy and Charlie tiptoe around their shared secret—it was Troy, not Charlie, who killed Cobb—and say goodbye, Troy promising to visit Charlie’s elderly mother in England. Back home, Troy’s ex, Anna, a doctor, rekindles their affair and introduces him to Patrick “Fitz” Fitzgerald, the senior partner in her medical practice. A weekend getaway at Fitz’s country home turns into a sexual roundelay in which very young women frolic with some of Troy’s middle-aged male acquaintances. Anna expresses concerns over Troy’s health; indeed, it turns out, he has tuberculosis and is sent to The Glebe, a Dedham sanatorium, where he gets the distressing news of Fitz’s arrest and a sensational scandal brewing. Fitz stands accused of running a brothel with underage women who service distinguished politicians, a charge with enough half-truths to trigger headlines. The ensuing trial, which Troy attends, is the novel’s centerpiece. He frequently compares notes with no less a personage than Dame Rebecca West and shelters one of Fitz’s girls, a teenaged waif named Clover.

Lawton’s shaggy plot reflects all the turmoil and moral ambiguity of the times, and he writes like a house afire.