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5.0 out of 5 starsA complex and deft web of storylines
Reviewed in the United States on October 27, 2019
Lawton is at the top of his game taking us from pre-war Vienna to Los Alamos and the race to develop the A-bomb to Auschwitz and the collapse of the Third Reich. Inspector Troy plays a smaller but vital role in bringing all the story lines to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion.
John Lawton creates an existential mystery in "A Lily of the Field." Yes, ultimately his Inspector Troy is working on a murder case, but setting up the death is the Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and even earlier days of life in Vienna. The story has great bits of philosophical thought and even appreciation of classical music. It is not what I expected; it is way more and I will investigate his writing further.
5.0 out of 5 starsWonderfully woven characters and brilliant story line.
Reviewed in the United States on August 6, 2014
I've now read four books by John Lawton and I've thoroughly enjoyed each one. This one "A Lily Of The Field" I thought to be exceptional. His descriptive writing is so engrossing, you really DO get a feel for the time period and the way it must have been then. Lawton must at least be a student of music if not a practitioner. Only one well versed in so many aspects of the art of making music could take the reader on a journey like this with so much music actually wrapped up in the story line. From the young cellist Meret Voytek's first meeting with her mentor the brilliant Viktor Rosen, to the jazz clubs of post-war London and references to Johnny Dankworth and Ronnie Scott and their bands, he spins a serious mystery thriller that has all of the intrigue and suspense one could wish for. I could go on and on about this book but I'm afraid I would spoil it for someone ...so.... Get the book settle into a comfy chair with a glass of your favorite wine and be carried along on this great journey. 5 BIG stars from me, and of course I now have to read everything that John Lawton, one of my new favorite authors has ever written.
5.0 out of 5 starsA Really Terrific, and Quietly Thoughtful, Novel
Reviewed in the United States on June 17, 2020
I'm reading all of Lawton's work over the last few weeks and liking all of it. But liking and being stunned by excellence are two different things. Truly an amazing novel, one that follows several threads during the World War II era and slowly, carefully and beautifully brings them together. Exciting, exacting, thoughtful work. If I could give it more stars than five I certainly would.
After reading first two novels written by Rebecca Cantrell in her Berlin series, I desperately needed something to cleanse my palate. Her pedestrian, cardboard books, and then this treasure written by the master of the historical mystery, John Lawton. He masterfully brings back the old days and his vivid, colorful characters seem like old friends. Of course, writers of this caliber aren't usually very prolific. But when they do honor us, their books are like precious gifts.
John Lawton has a fine eye for the pre and post WWII period in London but I read his books for the police procedural aspects rather than the period detail. More than half this book goes by without a mention of a murder or sign on an inspector Troy to investigate it. I found the same thing with "Second Violin." Fine books for detail of their period (both are circa WWII) but the mystery is missing for most of the book. The two are books are also companions in that they follow many of the same charters from Nazi Germany into England and beyond.
5.0 out of 5 starsOne of the best in the Inspector Troy series
Reviewed in the United States on November 24, 2020
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Lawton’s style of writing and fully realized characters kept me looking forward to the end of my day when i could spend a couple of hours in England during and after WWII.
The first half of this novel is, on the whole, rather splendid. We are in Austria, shortly before the 1938 Anschluss. Cello and piano prodigy Meret Voytek begins lessons with concert pianist (and keen cellist) Viktor Rosen, and falls wildly in love. Meanwhile Meret's scientist cousin Karel Szabo, worried about the political situation, decides to emigrate to Britain. Lawton then takes us through the troubled times in Vienna from just before the Anschluss to 1945, with additional chapters detailing Szabo's adventures in internment camps and, as a brilliant physicist, working on Robert Oppenheimer's team developing the first nuclear bombs at Los Alamos. We learn how Viktor fled to London as a refugee, and how Meret decided to stay behind with her family in Austria, and nearly survived the war, only - despite her not being Jewish - to be rounded up and sent to Auschwitz in 1944 due to a misunderstanding. The novel follows Meret through her time in Auschwitz where she is forced to play her cello to save her life, and her escape afterwards, when she is saved by the Russians. But liberty at Russian hands comes at a price...
So far, so engrossing. There's the odd howler - the Kreutzer Sonata by Beethoven is for violin and piano, not cello and piano, and I doubt a virtuoso pianist would be equally happy teaching cello to concert performing standard, even if he was a fine cellist too. The affair between Karol Szabo and the strange Zette Brugge (can't remember if the name is right?) felt rather peremptory, and I think we could have done with more insight into Viktor and Karol's politics. Also, I believe very few women of good family learnt trombone in the 1930s. But leaving these quibbles aside, it's a rather thrilling read that evokes the period and its different factions well, and with some stunning descriptions. The relationship between Meret and Viktor is also potentially fascinating.
And then we get to Part II and the narrative all goes to pot. The action shifts to London, and most of it is told from the point of view of Lawton's recurring character Inspector Frederick Troy. Troy, a bit like Elizabeth Speller's Lawrence Bartram, is a profoundly boring figure - an aristocrat blessed with virtuoso skill on the piano (classical and jazz), he should be interesting, but he comes across as dull and wooden. And, far more than Bartram, he takes the whole plot with him, as the story collapses into a soulless ramble, with innumerable mentions of cars (how many times do we need to know Troy's mother owns a Lagonda), trips to pubs and a lot of waffling chat between the police officers. There's a weird subplot about a female doctor called Anna who's worried about the NHS (its creation, which one can't help feeling is somewhat selfish) and might be having an affair with Troy, and her one-legged war-hero husband who spends each day drinking himself silly. There are a lot of characters with excruciatingly conveyed 'funny accents' (Troy's Russian mother and rather a lot of Cockneys, while Meret speaks in a broken English that fluctuates between near incoherence and almost native proficiency). It takes ages from the crime committed - a man pushed under a train - to get back to Meret and co and by that time my interest was flagging mightily.
Even when we get back - sort of - to Meret, Viktor and the others the story never regains its former promise. Troy and Meret appear to leap into a close relationship from virtually nothing, while Viktor barely features, and Karol Szabo only turns up again at the end. The spy dimension (SPOILER ALERT) is ridiculous - if someone was able to communicate messages by inserting wrong notes into a piece they performed in a concert, wouldn't audiences have started to complain about their innacuracy as a performer?! (I'm not sure you could just change the Debussy Cello Sonata with no one noticing, incidentally.) What happens to Meret feels increasingly ridiculous, and Karol's motivation remains extremely vague. And as for the scene where Troy is attacked by three or four nasty Czech crooks and manages to kill at least two of them at a blow - this was verging perilously close to farce.
When I started this book, I thought I'd found a new Le Carre. I closed it, I'm afraid, with a determination to read no more in the Inspector Troy series.
5.0 out of 5 starsI have now read all of Troy's books.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 8, 2020
I was so lucky to have come across John Lawton, how did I not know about him, is just a happy mystery now. I have now read all 8 of the Troy books, about 900 pages each, a good substantial read. I felt very sad coming to the end of the 8th. Troy book. Had about 8 weeks of sheer reading luxury. I read in bed, and looked forward to each book every night. I am 89 and really enjoy my luxuries, and miss them too. Best espionage books I have read.
Once again John Lawton produces an hugely enjoyable novel. The latest in the ongoing 'Troy' series, despite the fact that he does not appear until the second half of the book.
The first half, covering events in pre-war Vienna through to the liberation of the death camps is, as usual, well researched, well written and a joy to read, developing new characters and reintroducing a couple of old favourites from the previous books. Having said that, you don't have to have read any of the previous novels as any 'back story' needed is explained to the reader.
The second half, when Inspector Troy makes his appearance is equally as good, from custom made pistols, potato silencers, the appearance of well known historical figures, the interplay with seemingly minor characters and further appearances from old favourites, it's a wonderful read that engages you and paints such a vivid picture it is not difficult to imagine Anna and Troy speeding off in the 12 litre Lagonda.
Espionage, crime, intrigue and social commentary, they are all here in this book - a truly excellent work of fiction.
The 'Troy' novels are a joy to read, the only problem I have is that they don't appear that regularly, but, if you want quality like this you have to put up with the wait.
A worthy member of the Troy canon, although perhaps not one to start with: much of Troy's backstory is taken as read, and indeed his shenanigans and foibles are less to the fore than usual.
The main interest of the novel, for me, lies in its clever interplay between fact and (historical) fiction, as in A Little White Death (a reading of the Profumo affair). Here Troy finds himself investigating a murder and the events in its wake which have to do with Soviet spies in England in the early 1950s. Yes, of course: Guy Burgess does make a cameo appearance.
Lawton as usual exploits his skill in the use of wry irony, as characters and their circumstances now well known are revealed in the novel not through the unfolding of events, but through Troy's super-sensitive reading of the situation.
Another special pleasure is Lawton's undoubted mastery of writing about music.
Happily, if rather surprisingly for Troy fans, our hero manages to contain his sometimes egregious sexual urges in this one.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 27, 2014
The Troy series is outstanding and, whilst maybe not essential, I think it is worth reading it in chronological sequence, rather than publication sequence; the chronological sequence is: Second Violin; Riptide; Black Out; A Lily Of The Field; Old Flames; Blue Rondo; A little White Death. I think it is interesting that the books were published (and, presumably, written) out of chronological sequence and wonder if this was done to allow the author to avoid the continuity gaffs which occur in many book series – knowing where or how he wanted key characters to end up, he could subsequently create a back story to match – the only continuity issue I noticed was about Troy’s piano at Goodwin’s Court. There is a murder whodunit in each book but the series is about much, much more than that: the changes in society and attitudes from the 1930s through to the 1960s; national and international politics, from pre Second World War to the Cold War and Suez; spies and the Security Services; Special Branch; the hypocrisy, vices and double standards of the establishment; the internment of enemy aliens. There are some superb characters, including Alexei Troy, Uncle Nikolai, Tosca, Stanley Onions, Kitty Stilton, Kolankiewicz and, especially, Troy himself. Troy is not a sympathetic character; he is a sociopath and immoral, amoral or of a very different morality; he does not have difficulty with indulging in incest, adultery, murder or blackmail; he believes that the end justifies the means, that the law does not apply to him and that lying is always a better option than telling the truth – makes for a fascinating read.