Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Review of Friends and Traitors by John Lawton (2017, Atlantic Monthly)

July 1935, a young Frederick Troy meets Guy Burgess for the first time at a dinner party hosted by his newspaper magnate father. Over the next 16 years they periodically bump into each other as Troy works his way up the Met and Burgess drunkenly pings between jobs and lovers. The last of these happenstance encounters is the night Burgess and Maclean skip the country and defect to the Russians in 1951. Fast forward to 1958 and Chief Superintendent Troy is on a family tour of Europe. He’s lured to Vienna, where Burgess is waiting for him. He wants to come home and Troy to help make it happen. Troy pulls in MI5, but the agent they send is gunned down on the street. Burgess’ hope of returning to Blighty has gone and Troy is suspected of murder and being a Soviet agent. Troy has plenty of skeletons in the closet with respect to Russian agents, but proving he’s not one himself while protecting his secrets is going to be a challenge.

Friends and Traitors is the eighth book in the Inspector Troy series. Like the other books the story spans a number of years and makes occasional reference to events in earlier instalments, though knowledge of them is not required - their use just simply adds to the complex layering of the series. This outing charts Troy’s entanglement with Guy Burgess, the infamous British spy for the Soviets, between 1935 and 1958. A good portion of the book provides the context for the final third and an encounter with Burgess in Vienna in 1958, where the defected spy asks to be allowed to return to Britain. When a MI5 agent is shot dead while walking with Troy after meeting Burgess, Troy is left to clear his name of murder and espionage. Lawton spins a nicely plotted, atmospheric, intriguing tale, weaving real life characters, as well others that have appeared in other books and series, into the storyline. It’s a little far-fetched at times, but nonetheless an engaging and entertaining read, with some nice twists and turns.

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