The treason of the Cambridge Five, and especially Guy Burgess, casts a long shadow over the life of Scotland Yard’s Inspector Troy.
Lawton’s narrative moves fluidly from 1935, when Frederick Troy is a young policeman, to 1958, when he’s Chief Superintendent of Scotland Yard, with stops at various points in between. When he first meets the infamous Burgess at a posh party at the family home, he’s utterly charmed by him before he learns from his elder brother Rod, who was at Cambridge with Burgess, of his sexual voraciousness and his duplicitous behavior in Russia. Over the next decade or so, Troy sees Burgess intermittently, ignoring his brother’s warning, and feels a significant tug toward Burgess’ hedonism, though their association never develops into a sexual relationship. In the 1950s, as the focus moves from London to Venice to Paris to Vienna to Moscow, the relationship between England and Russia becomes more complex, and earlier suspicions of misconduct by Burgess and fellow Cambridge mates Anthony Blunt and Donald Maclean blossom into charges of treason. Not until 1958 does Troy first realize that he’s being followed. When Troy and his mistress, Foxx, meet with Rod to trade opinions and discuss options, the situation is complicated by the growing insanity of Troy’s sister, Sasha. Of course the reader knows that the pursuer is Burgess, who duly confronts Troy at the symphony. The past, it seems, is never dead.
Burgess makes a delicious antagonist in this eighth installment in the franchise (A Lily of the Field, 2010, etc.). Lawton, who writes with rueful acumen, puts a human face on the moral and political complexities of the Cold War.