Friday, August 25, 2017

Review of Riptide by John Lawton (Orion, 2001)

1941. Wolfgang Stahl, a senior Nazi and American spy has fled Berlin and made his way to London, going underground in the city. Stahl’s handler, Calvin Cormack has been flown in from Zurich, and paired up with special branch inspector, Walter Stilton, to track down the missing agent. Stahl’s old boss, Heydrich has also activated a couple of agents to deal with him before he can talk to the allies about Germany’s plans. Sergeant Troy of Scotland Yard’s murder squad takes an interest when the body of a supposed Dutchman is discovered, but is quickly moved to one side. Troy though likes resolution and when the killer strikes again and Cormack is in the frame for murder, the young policemen decides to set his own trap.

Riptide (released as 'Bluffing Mr Churchill' in the US) is the fourth book in the Inspector Troy series, though it is a prequel to the other books in the series, set in 1941 when Troy is a young, up-and-coming sergeant.  The plot centres on the hunt for a senior Nazi and American agent who has fled to London and is hiding in the city, unsure who to trust.  Trying to track him down are an American Army officer and special branch detective, with Troy on sidelines waiting to enter to save the day. This is typical Lawton fare, blending strong historicisation and sense of place with a ripping yarn peopled with interesting and engaging characters, ranging from everyday folk to senior diplomats and politicians to real-life players at the time. Cormack and Troy are at the core of the tale, but it is the Stilton family who steal the show. The result is a wonderfully evocative sense of London at war and a gripping tale of espionage, politics, murder and pathos (Lawton is not afraid to bump off some of his most endearing characters) that has a nice side line in dark humour and a lovely slapstick scene in a tailor’s shop.  I was gripped from the start and picked up the book every time I had a spare moment, thoroughly enjoying the read.

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