John Lawton's highly enjoyable Frederick Troy series stands out for several reasons. Troy, the son of a powerful newspaper publisher, doesn't quite fit into the stereotypical English mold. As to be expected, he is literate and articulate, cultured and almost moral, but our Freddie is no James Bond or even Albert Campion. He is merely Freddie, caught between his Russian heritage and the English environment, his education and his own inclinations.
'Bluffing Mr. Churchill' (or `Riptide' in Britain) is set in a wartime London. And Frederick Troy is for most of the novel a minor character. (Lawton, it appears enjoys tweaking the 'rules' of series writing: his Troy novels aren't chronological, Troy we're told at one point resembles James Mason [shudder, so not the alpha hero!], sympathetic characters sometimes fall afoul of the villains, and Troy doesn't always make the best decisions.) And here, the majority of the novel is devoted to other characters.
Briefly, 'Bluffing Mr. Churchill' is the story of Captain Cal Cormack, a bespectacled and seemingly ingenious American soldier and his partner, Chief Inspector Stilton, possibly the most delightful copper the reader will ever encounter. The pair is trying to beat Nazi assassins to Wolfgang Stahl, an American-run German agent who is somewhere in London.
Lawton's 1941 London comes alive. The devastation of the air raids, the pervading grief at the loss of life among both civilians and the military, the disruption of the social order and the undermining of the certainty that life as it has been will continue are carefully juggled with the English ability to find honor and courage and humor in the worst of situations. Lawton's novel is in many ways an entertaining social history rendered with sympathy and humor.
Five Stars. The bottom line: `Bluffing Mr. Churchill' is indeed a well written mystery set in World War II London and should have great appeal for those who enjoy period mysteries, but it is so much more. It is also a striking portrait of London and its people.
Since Lawton's novels sometimes have different titles in Britain and the USA, and since they're not written in a strict chronological order, here are two lists that may help; no promises, but I think I got it right.
Chronological Order (based on Troy's life): A Lily of the Field, Second Violin, Riptide (Bluffing Mr. Churchill), Black Out, Old Flames, Blue Rondo (Flesh Wounds), A Little White Death.
Publishing Order: Black Out, Old Flames, A Little White Death, Bluffing Mr. Churchill, Flesh Wounds, Second Violin, A Lilly of the Field.