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by John Lawton

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-87113-907-3
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

In 1941 London, a Scotland Yard detective and an American Army captain team up to ferret out a spy.

With RAF bombs exploding all around him, SS officer Wolfgang Stahl cleverly escapes Berlin by switching identities with a corpse, then makes his way to London, where he goes into deep hiding. Sent in pursuit is US army captain Calvin Cormack; it turns out that Stahl is actually an American spy who works with Cal. Cal teams up with MI5 officer Walter Stilton and, eventually, with Sergeant Frederick Troy of Scotland Yard, Lawton’s protagonist in his two previous installments. The author leapfrogs over the brooding Old Flames (2003), set during the Cold War, and picks up here where his lively debut, 1995’s Black Out, left off. MI5 prides itself on its meticulous tracking of all foreign agents in England, so Stahl’s capture becomes a matter of ego as well as security. Because Cal and Troy have a lot in common—both are wunderkinds in their respective jobs, both live in the shadow of a famous father (Cal’s is a highly decorated general turned politician, Troy’s a renowned intellectual and diplomat born in Russia)—they should partner well. Instead, they distrust each other immediately and needle each other incessantly. Also, and not incidentally, Cal has a hot affair with Troy’s ex, Kitty, a sexually ravenous redheaded Wren, who also happens to be Stilton’s daughter. Lawton plays out the culture clash of this odd couple to maximum effect, using his unsubtle backdrop of historic color (Churchill and H.G. Wells make cameos). This clash, and the massive three-way chess game among Troy, Cal, and Stilton, each deciding how much of their own intelligence to share and when, comprise the meat of the story.

Brisk but uncompelling. The chapters from American Cal’s perspective seem veddy British.