Bluffing Mr. Churchill Paperback – Jul 31 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
In this stimulating prequel to Lawton's acclaimed Inspector Troy series (Black Out; Old Flames; etc.), London is in the middle of the blitz and 25-year-old Freddie Troy is a Scotland Yard sergeant, chafing at the limits of his post. As the novel begins, he is relegated to the background, the focus instead on a gawky American named Calvin Cormack, who has come to London to help find and debrief Wolfgang Stahl, a top aide to Hitler's SS chief, Heydrich, and a spy for the Americans who has been forced to flee Germany for England to avoid capture, carrying with him plans for the imminent German invasion of Russia. The seriously spooked Stahl disappears into the vast underground system of bombed-out London, accessible only to Walter Stilton, a wonderfully bluff old copper. Calvin (whose father is a U.S. senator working with Charles Lindbergh and the America First group to keep the U.S. out of the war) is quickly absorbed into the large Stilton family, winning the affections of oldest daughter Kitty, also a police officer. Kitty, as it happens, was previously involved with Freddie Troy (and hasn't given him up entirely); Freddie's ties to the family and Calvin become more complicated when tragedy strikes and Freddie is drawn into the search for Stahl. Lawton meshes comedy and suspense with skill and energy, and seamlessly mixes fictional creations with real characters like H.G. Wells, newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook, Winston Churchill and distant cousin Robert Churchill (a talented gunsmith who plays a key role here), producing a distinctive, vigorous novel of wartime suspense.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In the third escapade of aristocrat copper Freddie Troy to reach U.S. shores, it is spring 1941, and while Britain hunkers down under sporadic bombing and the daily privations of war, America and Russia look idly on with ill-fated apathy. High-ranking spy Wolfgang Stahl flees Berlin, and his American contact, Captain Cal Cormack, teams up in a transatlantic odd couple with hardy Chief Inspector Stilton, following the desultory trail of the turncoat Nazi and sundry other German spies and assassins dodging about the ruined hulks and malodorous bomb shelters of London. On the gangly frame of these Buchanesque exploits hang intriguing snippets of history, a bit of social comedy, and a teeming cast of odd birds, such as Winston Churchill's ballistics-whiz brother Bob and randy Kitty, "either naked or getting naked." Troy of the Murder Squad is attacked with a potato peeler whilst playing his rather incidental role. The suspense is fairly slack, and moments of gravity tend to ring hollow amid all the chipper stoicism, but no matter: there's a war on, mate! Or, as Stilton's oft-employed Dickensian tagline puts it, "Wot Larx!" David Wright
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It's a stunning picture of the England just before The US and the Russians entered the war. London is a city under seige, short of everything from food to shoes. That alone is reason enough to buy the book - there've been lots of historical thrillers on this same subject, but this is the best. Beyond that ... what really hooked me was the characterisation. It would have been so easy to have the American GI paired to the London cop read like a cliche and it's about a hundred times better than that. They leap off the page at you, vivid,real and engaging. A five star read.
'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.
It's almost worth reading just for the "feel." This is what it must've been like to sit around the kitchen table of a middle-class London policeman in Spring of 1941.
But while the novel is literate and well-written, there's something distancing about it. I found Troy the less interesting and less sharply delineated of the two major characters (Troy and an American soldier, Cal Cormack), and Lawton spends much more time on Cormack. The spy / murder-mystery plot plays out without much momentum; better are the glimpses of the internal politics of the police force and diplomatic services.
I expect I'd like Bluffing Mr. Churchill much more if I already had some investment in the continuing characters. I doubt I'll hunt out the other books in the series.
Recommended, in spite of a couple of others here thinking that a prior UK publication is grounds to knock a perfectly good novel.
During the first third of the book, each chapter was from someone else's point of view. I had a hard time keeping things straight. Once Cal and Walter teamed up, the plot was much easier to follow. In addition, the book is written in British dialect, filled with a lot of slang. As an example, the word what was written wot. This really slowed down my reading because I often had to sound out words using my fake British accent. The main female character was very one dimensional, very crude and obsessed with sex ---- maybe if I was living in a city with frequent air raids I would become obsessed with it was well, but I doubt it. I also was not particularly wild about the ending.
On the plus side, the plot did move along. I think that historical detail was captured quite well. Maybe if I had read the series from the beginning, many of the characters would be familiar so the beginning of the book would not have felt so chaotic. I also liked the character of Frederick Troy, who is the main character of the series. He played a lesser role in this book. I have already bought another book in the series (not knowing that there was a series), but I'm not sure if I will get to it soon.