Review: Black Out by John Lawton

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Kindle Edition. File Size: 734 KB. Print Length: 352 pages. Grove Press (1 May 2012). ASIN: B006G0VGO2.

Publisher’s Blurb: London, 1944. While the Luftwaffe makes its final assault on the already battered British capital, Londoners rush through the streets, seeking underground shelter in the midst of the city’s black out. When the panic subsides, other things begin to surface along with London’s war-worn citizens. A severed arm is discovered by a group of children playing at an East End bomb site, and when Scotland Yard’s Detective Sergeant Frederick Troy arrives at the scene, it becomes apparent that the dismembered body is not the work of a V-1 rocket. After Troy manages to link the severed arm to the disappearance of a refugee scientist from Nazi Germany, America’s newest intelligence agency, the OSS, decides to get involved. The son of a titled Russian émigré, Troy is forced to leave the London he knows and enter a corrupt world of bloody consequences, stateless refugees, and mysterious women as he unearths a chain of secrets leading straight to the Allied high command.

My take: This is John Lawton’s debut novel and the first instalment in Inspector Troy Mystery series. It was first published by Viking in 1995 and now is being reissued by Grove Press. I had heard many good things about this books from bloggers whose opinion I have in high regard, however, my first exposure to this author had leave me a bit disappointed. Moreover it took me longer than usual to finish it as I had to interrupt my reading quite often. I certainly think my expectations were too high. The atmosphere of London during the II WW is effectively recreated and I’ve been always fascinated by the time period in which the action is set. Unfortunately I lost track of the story line several times and, occasionally, I had trouble understanding what was going on. Probably it was all my fault since I had to spend more time than usual checking out words in the dictionary. Characters and situations come and go in a way that is difficult to understand in my view. Some times the narrative flow changes abruptly and it takes time to find out the character’s name and her/his role in the book. Anyway I expect to read the rest of the series and I would have given it a 3.5 if I had used decimals.

My rating: 3/5.

Black Out has been reviewed by Norman at Crime Scraps, Rob at The View from the Blue House, among others.

I would also suggest to read Rhian’s post at It’s a crime! (Or a mystery…) about The Books of John Lawton – The “Troy” series.

Grove/Atlantic Inc.

John Lawton

I’ll count this book for my participation in the 2012 Global Reading Challenge (The Seventh Continent – History).

Black Out (Apagón) de John Lawton

De la editorial: Londres, 1944. Mientras la Luftwaffe hace su asalto final sobre la ya maltratada capital británica, los londinenses corren por las calles, buscando refugio subterráneo en medio de la oscuridad que se extiende por toda la ciudad. Luego, cuando el pánico disminuye, empiezan a aflorar junto a ciudadanos extenuados por la guerra otras cosas. Un grupo de niños juegan en un lugar del East End en donde ha explotado una bomba y se encuentran con un brazo cortado. El detective sargento de Scotland Yard Frederick Troy se desplaza hasta el lugar de los hechos. Pronto resulta evidente que el resto humano no ha sido consecuencia de un misil V-1. Y cuando Troy consigue establecer cierta relación entre ese brazo y la desaparición de un científico refugiado de la Alemania nazi, la nueva agencia de espionaje de Estados Unidos, la OSS, decide involucrarse. Entonces Troy, el hijo de un noble ruso emigrado, se ve obligado a abandonar el Londres que conoce para adentrarse en un mundo corrupto de consecuencias sangrientas, de refugiados apátridas, y de mujeres misteriosas mientras descubre una cadena de secretos que conducen directamente hasta el alto mando Aliado.

Mi opinión: Se trata de la primera novela de John Lawton y es la primera entrega de la serie de misterio protagonizada por el inspector Troy. Fue publicada inicialmente por Viking en 1995 y ahora está siendo reeditada por Grove Press. Yo había oído muchas cosas buenas sobre este libro de blogeros cuya opinión tengo en gran consideración, sin embargo, mi primer contacto con este autor me ha decepcionado un poco. Por otra parte me llevó más tiempo de lo normal terminarlo ya que tuve que interrumpir mi lectura con bastante frecuencia. Ciertamente creo que mis expectativas eran demasiado altas. La atmósfera de Londres durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial está recreada con gran efectividad y siempre me ha fascinado el periodo de tiempo en el que transcurre la acción. Lamentablemente perdía a menudo el hilo de la historia y, en ocasiones, he tenido problemas para entender lo que estaba sucediendo. Probablemente era por mi culpa, ya que he tenido que dedicar más tiempo de lo acostumbrado a mirar palabras en el diccionario. Los personajes y las situaciones aparecen y desaparecen de una manera que resulta difícil de comprender. En ocasiones el flujo narrativo cambia de forma brusca y lleva un tiempo descubrir el nombre del personaje y el papel que desempeña en el libro. De todos modos espero leer el resto de la serie y le hubiera dado un 3.5 si hubiera usado decimales.

Mi calificación: 3/5

Inspector Troy Novels

This post was intended as a private note but I thought it may be of interest to regular or sporadic readers of this blog

(Information taken from Wikipedia)

The novels in the Frederick Troy series share the eponymous protagonist Frederick (he doesn’t like any form of his given name, preferring to be addressed by his surname) Troy, the younger son of a Russian immigrant father who’s become a wealthy newspaper publisher and baronet. Defying class and family expectations, the independently wealthy Troy joins Scotland Yard, becoming an investigator on the “murder squad”.

The series, in published order:

  • Black Out (1995). The story begins during the last stages of the London Blitz in 1944. Troy is assigned to find out who’s murdering German scientists who’ve been secretly smuggled out of Germany and into Britain. Later, Troy tracks his suspect to Berlin in 1948, during the Berlin Blockade. Along the way, he tangles with British and American spy agencies, a Russian spy and a British femme fatale.
  • Old Flames (1996). Troy, because he speaks Russian, is assigned to guard Russian Secretary-General Nikita Khrushchev, during his 1956 visit to Britain. Along with these duties, Troy investigates the death of an ex-navy diver during a curiously botched spy mission.
  • A Little White Death (1998). The third Troy novel uses the historical events of the Profumo Affair and the Kim Philby spy scandal of the early 1960s as a jumping-off point for a fictionalised version in which Troy, now risen to Commander in Scotland Yard, discovers that an apparent suicide (of the fictional Stephen Ward-analog character) was really a murder. A second apparent suicide thickens the plot. Most of the historical characters get fictional equivalents, a few appear as themselves, and Christine Keeler becomes a pair of sisters. In the closing Historical Note, however, Lawton explains his historical inspirations and cautions that “This is not a roman à clef.” Concurrent with the scandal/spy/murder plot, Lawton interleaves some cultural history on the beginnings of ‘swinging London’. The novel’s title is a double entendre, referring both to the pills used in the second suspicious suicide and to Troy’s life-and-career-threatening battle against tuberculosis.
  • Riptide (2001). (Published in the United States (2004) as Bluffing Mr. Churchill). Lawton backtracks chronologically to the early days of World War II, before Black Out.
  • Blue Rondo (2005). (Published in the United States as Flesh Wounds). This book opens at almost exactly the same point as Black Out, and then skips ten years beyond the end of Black Out to pick up the lives of characters who are only children in the first novel. In 1959 two of them have grown up to be East End gangsters trying to move into the West End, and one has become a policeman working with Frederick Troy. There are some similarities to the historical story of the three Kray brothers, but Blue Rondo is set in a very different era and the author has, on occasion, warned against making too much of such analogy.
  • Second Violin (2007). Another “prequel” to Black Out, this time back to 1938. The main protagonist this time is Frederick Troy’s older brother Rod, working as a reporter for his father’s newspaper. Rod travels to Vienna, just in time to witness Kristallnacht. Returning to Britain, he is sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man because of his Austrian birth and failure to pursue naturalisation. During the Battle of Britain, he is freed to become a fighter pilot. Meanwhile, brother Fred investigates the murders of several East End rabbis. The parallel stories eventually converge at the final denouement.
  • A Lily of the Field (2010). This novel tells two linked stories, differing in tone and structure, but heading to the same conclusion. The first part, “Audacity”, is set in the years 1934–46 in Europe, and has only the briefest mention of Frederick Troy. It is, essentially, the back-story to all that follows. The second part, “Austerity”, set in London in 1948, is a more familiar Inspector Troy murder investigation, that, almost inevitably, spills over into Cold War espionage.


For additional information about the author you can check The Official Site of John Lawton and  The Books of John Lawton – The “Troy” series

There is also an interesting entry at Detectives Beyond Borders by Peter Rozovsky : John Lawton on being a “crime” writer.

Norman at Crime Scraps has reviewed all the books in the series.

I have downloaded Black Out to my Kindle. Thanks for your warning, Rhian. Black Out is the start of an addictive series, so be prepared.

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