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by John Lawton
Atlantic Monthly Press, October 2010
400 pages
ISBN: 0802119565

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A LILY OF THE FIELD, the new Inspector Troy mystery by John Lawton, features a book jacket with a swastika inside the letter O. I found this intriguing because, if nothing else, I felt assured that the villains would be truly evil. For the first part of this mystery, we are taken on a whirlwind tour of Nazi occupied Vienna, Nazi death camps, and British and Canadian internment facilities. We are introduced to the world of classical musicians and overhear the conversations of interned physicists discussing the material for atomic bombs. If you are a John Lawton fan and follow his Inspector Troy series, you may wonder what is going on. Troy, who works for Scotland Yard, is nowhere in sight.

Part one, called "Audacity," opens in 1934 Vienna. We follow the fates of Méret Voytek, a 10 year-old child prodigy, and her cello teacher and mentor, Victor Rosen, a world-renowned pianist. Over the next decade or so, we watch them as they struggle to stay alive through the war and post-war periods. The Nazis are not the only bad guys here. There are spies and there are Germans and there are Russians and there is the British secret service. Killing people does not seem to be a problem for any of them. In fact, one of the Brits refers to some Czech henchmen as really not existing at all. We also, in this part, follow a number of German scientists who have been recruited to work on the Manhattan project. Lawton gives detailed information about the world of physics as well as that of classical music. It is clear that he is knowledgeable about both subjects.

The second part of the book takes place in 1948 and is fittingly called "Austerity." The gray atmosphere of nutrient-starved post war Britain is palpable here, as though the author, or perhaps someone he knew, actually lived through this bleak period. Food and other necessities are rationed and little is available in the way of luxuries. Inspector Freddie Troy is not suffering however, as he is an aristocrat in a society where class is everything. Like Elizabeth George's Detective Inspector Thomas Lindley, Troy is dedicated to his sleuthing although he does not need to work. Troy is a perceptive and dogged searcher for the clues to the killing he is investigating. A man was murdered on the Underground in broad daylight. That is not the only oddity here. The murder weapon was a tiny custom made pistol encrusted with jewels—and the silencer was a potato. Troy immediately suspects that the victim was not merely a second-rate painter but might also be a spy of some sort. Eventually what Troy discovers about this crime links all of the book's disparate elements. A LILY OF THE FIELD is not a quick read, but it is worth the reader's time to live for a while in the worlds Lawton recreates.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, November 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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