A Lily of the Field by John Lawton
For readers of spy thrillers and the like, I have an author to recommend. If you have read through the novels of Alan Furst, I think you will enjoy reading books by John Lawton. In fact, maybe even enjoy them more, because you will follow the career of Scotland Yard’s Detective Sergeant Frederick Troy through a series of novels. His career begins for us in Black Out, during the Second World War as London is being relentlessly bombed. A body discovered in the rubble, but is not the victim of the bombing but of murder.
I’ve just finished John Lawton’s most recent novel A Lily of the Field and look forward to reading the rest of the earlier novels featuring Troy, promoted to Inspector by now. This story begins in pre-war Vienna where the young Meret Voytek, a cello prodigy, takes lessons from the famous concert pianist Viktor Rosen. Viktor has escaped from Nazi Germany, and will soon have to leave Austria as well. Meret is not Jewish and remains, with her family, in Vienna, but is not protected from being rounded up and sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner.
We read of Meret’s horrifying experience in Auschwitz, and at the same time, of Viktor’s experience in England. There are other characters from Europe who spend the war years in England, who are also imprisoned for some of that time on the Isle of Man. Some of these prisoners are scientists who are selected to be sent to the United States to work on a top secret project – the Manhattan project.
When the Second World War comes to an end we find all of these characters in London, England – home turf for Inspector Troy. This is an England still recovering from the war – food still rationed and bombed out homes still interrupting blocks of central London.
Troy is the second son of a once wealthy family – the family home has seen better times, and Troy’s older brother and his family live there now. Troy’s brother is a government official – working with MI5, which comes in very handy sometimes when Troy needs certain information. The case we read about in A Lily of the Field centers around the death of a refugee in a London underground station – shot in the crowd, by a very lovely little Russian pistol. As Troy investigates we learn about the world of Meret and Viktor and others who came to England from Europe at this time – and how they adapted to life post-war, as another war began – the Cold War.
There are wonderful scenes of Troy and his brother, two men with very different personalities, who consult with each other to solve the case and make the world a safer place. The descriptions of life in post war England are fascinating, the language of the characters and the people they cross paths with, some very colourful characters, bring the time to life. Anyone who knew this time will feel right at home – and the rest of us will have a window to that world, while enjoying a very excellent novel.