John Lawton, Old Flames – Deluxe 1st ed. Spy Fiction


John Lawton is the author of eight Troy detective spy novels. They examine the intrigues of post war British foreign policy. Old Flames, in a special rebinding signed by the author, involves the Buster Crab spy scandal with the Russians.

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This rebinding is one of just 12 copies, lettered with an additional signed page with text (below) approved by the author. Issued in June 2018 and comprises the original first edition of Lawton’s second novel Old Flames (1996).

John Lawton has been a television producer and writer; but it was with his novels that he became an internationally known thriller writer. Dense, colourful, full-on espionage-cum-detective novels, the Troy series (1995 – 2017) has been a revelation. The eight books so far follow the policeman son of a wealthy Russian immigrant to Britain, from before World War II into the 1960’s. Refined and well-off, Troy is a troubled loner; by birth and disposition a sceptical outsider. Through the prism of his family, friends and acquaintances England is portrayed as going in different directions: socially, politically, and even psycho- logically. Fear and anxiety collide with duty and pulling together. Lawton’s use of popular culture also lends authenticity to the books; as does real-life characters such as Churchill or factory girls who leave northern towns for a better life.

The dignified humanity, sense of irony coupled with his political perception and his take on betrayal place Lawton in the Allbeury/Deighton School of moral ambivalence. Other strands are present too – the nods to Fleming, the flecks of tradecraft, the international venues, and of course, the liaisons with women. Nonetheless, the repercussions of war – on the imperial, national and micro level are a sustaining feature. They perhaps echo Correlli Barnet’s ‘Pride and Fall’ histories of multi-faceted decline. The headline crises and scandals are not lifted from the history books with settled outcomes – they are opportunities to uncover intrigues, tensions and the eclipse of national purpose.

In Old Flames the year is 1956, the war is over but Britain is economically on the rocks. It is the year of Suez, the visit of Khrushchev and Bulganin, and the frogman spy of Portsmouth. As in many of his novels, Lawton picks out a seminal year in which “a country and a culture re-defines itself” to set an intricate novel of detection and cold war espionage. Was frogman Buster Crabb a secret agent, even a double agent? What were the Soviets really up to? This novel gives insight into the mystery of a double life presented for fictional reasons as furniture salesman Cockerell. Old Flames contains adroit use of bluff and deceit but this is more than a spy novel. It shows us a country slowly coming to terms with the aftermath of the war, but has not started to look ahead.


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