Bluffing Mr. Churchill
An Inspector Troy Thrillerby John Lawton
John Lawton’s second Inspector Troy novel is a riveting tale of murder and intrigue in World War II London.
With his highly acclaimed Inspector Troy series, John Lawton has earned a place among today’s top historical espionage writers. The Chicago Tribune has hailed him as “one of the unsung (at least until now) heroes of the genre, as good as Le Carré.”
It is April 1941. Since the Fall of France and the heroic evacuation of Dunkirk, Britain has stood alone against Nazi Germany. Hitler has not yet broken his nonaggression pact with Russia but could do so at any moment; and America is struggling to stay neutral in the face of Britain’s plight. With his cover as an SS officer blown, American spy Wolfgang Stahl has just fled Germany for parts unknown. Stahl’s liaison at the U.S. State Department, Calvin Cormack, must find his man before the Germans out him as an American operative. Is Stahl already dead, as the SS would have his protectors believe, or is he still alive and well, carrying intelligence that could change the course of history?
To find out, the sheltered, patrician Cormack is teamed with an unlikely partner: Special Branch officer Walter Stilton. Stilton is a hard-nosed cop and a meat-and-potatoes man whose family is his first love—and whose vivacious daughter Kitty proves to be more than Cormack can handle. But when things go horribly awry and Cal is ditched by MI6 and disowned by his embassy, Cormack’s last hope is Kitty’s old flame, Chief Inspector Troy of Scotland Yard.
The highly anticipated new installment in John Lawton’s acclaimed Inspector Troy series, Bluffing Mr. Churchill takes us from the shelled-out blocks to the ubiquitous pubs to the underground counterfeiting shops, brilliantly re-creating war-torn London in the time of ration books and food lines and offering a blistering page-turner that is “one of the most entertaining thrillers . . . in years.” (Sunday Telegraph).
“A gorgeous reminder that London during the Blitz was the most heroic, most romantic, most dramatic moment of the unhappy 20th century. [Bluffing Mr. Churchill] is above all else Lawton’s tribute to the courage of his countryman when they stood alone against Hitler. . . . If you haven’t discovered Lawton, this is the ideal starting point. . . . [Lawton’s] books should not be missed by anyone who seeks superior popular entertainment.” —Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post Book World
“[A] superior espionage tale. . . . As always, Lawton’s characters are morally complex, his plots intelligent and his sense of atmospherics acute. You can almost hear the buzz bombs and smell the acrid odor of the underground shelters.” —Adam Woog, The Seattle Times
“Lawton returns to the World War II London Blitz setting of Black Out. . .with equal skill and energy, producing an intriguing, stimulating, all-too-plausible story. . . . The blend of Lawton’s fictional creations with real characters like Winston Churchill. . . produces a rich and juicy montage that throbs with life.” —Dick Adler, The Chicago Tribune
“A spy novel tightly wrapped into a murder mystery. . . . The Troy series establishes Lawton in the first rank of British popular fiction. The stories are at once deeply personal and globally important. Bluffing Mr. Churchill offers keen insights into the development of the character that will delight fans of his other books and serve as a valuable introduction to readers just discovering them. It is also a gripping and gritty sojourn through an already-dangerous London demimonde, made all the more treacherous by the brutalities of war. That it is equally successful as an espionage thriller and a detective story is proof that John Lawton is a potent storyteller.” —L.D. Meagher, CNN.com
“Another absorbing blend of espionage and detection. . . . The book is enlivened by bits of humor and by the larger-than-life presence of Walter Stilton.” —Tom and Enid Schantz, The Denver Post
“Bluffing Mr. Churchill is as much about the politics of war and the myopia of world leaders as it is a thriller. . . . You can’t help but think you are eavesdropping in John Lawton’s exquisitely scripted novel. . . . The slang, the food, the lifestyles, the Cockney characters—all are so perfectly captured that form frequently eclipses function in this splendid thriller.” —Ann Hellmuth, Orlando Sentinel
“Filled with double dealing and duplicity at every level, Bluffing Mr. Churchill is a tightly plotted and atmospheric tale of intrigue. It also captures as well as anything I’ve read the wartime atmosphere of London during the Blitz.” —Rick Sullivan, Grand Rapids Press
“The narrative shifts from the spy, his Nazi pursuers, his American handlers and assorted British players real and fictitious to create a suspenseful historical novel of the first order.” —Ft. Meyers News-Press
“Lawton’s rich detail establishes the story right away. . . . Besides Troy and the irascible police pathologist, Ladislaw Kolankiewicz, fans can expect a wealth of engaging new characters.” —Adam Dunn, CNN.com
“Using real historical figures, groups, and events to add authenticity, Bluffing Mr. Churchill is a great historical suspense thriller that readers will cherish.” —Harriet Klausner, Allreaders.com
“The gritty realism of the bombed city, the make-do food supplies, the endless pots of tea, the makeshift air raid shelters, and the ubiquitous pubs provide a fascinating backdrop for this top-notch espionage mystery.” —Carol Howell, I Love A Mystery
“Stimulating. . . . Lawton meshes comedy and suspense with skill and energy, and seamlessly mixes fictional creations with real characters. . .producing a distinctive, vigorous novel of wartime suspense. ” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“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. . . . There’s a war on, mate! Or, as Stilton’s oft-employed Dickensian tagline puts it, ‘Wot Larx!’” —David Wright, Booklist
“[A] striking new suspense novel. . . . [Lawton] brings other historical figures to life, and grants memorable cameos to a number of famous men and women who personified the times. . . . All of the characters are vividly sketched. . . .Bluffing Mr. Churchill is a historically fascinating story that is masterfully told.” —Martin Kich, Bookpage
“Lawton evokes wartime London with an infectiously jaunty panache.” —Donna Leon, Sunday Times (UK)
“Troy is a character of real depth and subtlety. His brooding presence at the heart of the novel, at once enigmatic and vulnerable, makes Bluffing Mr. Churchill not only a satisfying read, but . . . [a thriller] with a strong moral heartbeat.” —Independent (UK)
“The sense of London during the Blitz is strong and the story, with its mix of real history and believable invention, is fast-paced, twisting and tense.” —The Observer (UK)
Extract from Bluffing Mr Churchill
Walter Stilton ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He was more than partial to thick giblet soup, the toughness of gizzard held no fear for him and stuffed, roast heart no symbol. When he could get it—when his wife had queued half a morning to get it—he loved liver slices fried in breadcrumbs—but most of all he adored to start the day with grilled mutton kidneys, faintly piss-tanged to the palate—a breakfast, if not fit for a king, then sweetly fit for a Chief Inspector of the London Metropolitan Police Force.
He moved softly about the kitchen. It had been light since before five and first light woke him better than any alarm clock. Tangible light in the basement room, the promise of the heat of the day beyond its windows. Summer mornings such as this made him peckish.
He’d eat his plate of grilled kidneys, washed down, with strong, sweet, milky tea, silently reading last night’s evening paper. And when he had done he would pad about the kitchen in his socks, shirtless, the braces hanging down his back like the reins of some giant and unruly toddler, making tea and toast for his wife. He was always first up—had been since the first morning of their marriage. It was a habit of his father’s. Handed down. A Derbyshire miner, at work before the world was awake, he would always light the fire, feed himself and take breakfast to his wife. It was the only domestic chore he would undertake—so it was with Stilton. He’d never washed so much as a cup and saucer in his married life but he’d stoked the Aga and made breakfast every day of it.
A saucer of milk for the pusscat, then softly up the stairs to the first floor. Edna was awake, windows open, a curtain flapping gently in the summer breeze. Stilton set down the tray upon her knees and said nothing. He’d run out of things to say to her. And there was nothing she asked of him.
“Will you be late home?” she asked.
“Hard to say, love.”
And in that the routine of conversation in the wake of the death of their children varied not one whit from the routine of thirty years and more. They neither had to vocabulary to prolong the manifestation of grief.
Stilton dressed. A clean shirt aired on the Aga’s front rail. The collar stud eased in with a practised thumb. His Metropolitan Police Bowls Team tie. His shiny black boots, the pusscat weaving between his legs and lashing out at the laces as he did them up.
Looking at himself in the mirror of the hallstand—a silent voice in the head telling him to look like a copper, shoulders back, a tug of the hatbrim, trying for the glint of steel in the eyes—he heard the creak of bedsprings in the room above and the plump thump of his plump wife’s feet on the floor. Day begun. He pulled the door wide, the morning light reflecting brightly off the broken facade of the house opposite, and stepped out into the last day of his life.
As Walter Stilton stepped into the street Sergeant Troy was awoken by a telephone call from his father, a man who would never accept that his son did not “do” mornings unless duty required. As a boy he had known his father to bumble into his bedroom in the pitch-darkness of pre-dawn with some philosphical conundrum on his lips. Today was a day just like those old days. Troy had long since learnt to move from sleep to waking without transition—one second sound asleep the next wide awake and firing on all cylinders.
“What was it Berdyaev used to say about Russia?” Alex said without greeting, without so much as syllable from Troy.
Lately—the last ten years or so—his father had tended to treat Troy as an extension of his memory. A substitute for his own failing powers. He had made Troy read so much as a child—all those prolonged, sickly weeks off school—that his education was warped by the old man—he knew things no one of his generation or education might ordinarily be expected to know. Alex would ask Troy things he could not ask Rod. It depressed Troy to think that his father was still grinding away at his Russian piece. If he hadn’t finished it by now? And what had become of his collaboration with Wells?
“What exactly about Russia? He banged on about so many things?”
“It’s in The Soul of Russia—or at least I thought it was. I cannot find it. Books without indexes should be banned.”
“That’s probably what first narked Hitler . . .”
Alex ignored this. “He was, as you put it, banging on about the Russian Mission.”
“Oh,” said Troy “That. The Light from the East. It’s not Berdyaev—well not just him—it’s most of the old ones. It’s in Dostoevsky. Perhaps even in Tolstoy, and you might recall your dad had more than a bit of a bee in his bonnet about the holy Russian mission.”
“Holy?” said Alex as though the word meant nothing to him, one atheist talking to another.
“The Great Civilising Mission westward, how Russia as the keeper of the flame of Orthodoxy, the original true faith of Christ, would ultimately be the salvation of the decadent West, by which they meant anything west of Lvov. Of course they were right, in a way.”
“What way?” said his dad.
“There was indeed a Russian mission west—it just wasn’t anything to do with Christ or Orthodoxy or Holy Mother Russia. It was born in 1917 and it died at the end of Frank Jacson’s ice pick about nine months ago.”
“Permanent Revolution,” said Alex. “The earth shattering theory of the late Comrade Trotsky. How very cynical of you my boy.”
He rang off. Troy wondered if he’d pushed the old man too far. He was fed up with things Russian, but Trotsky’s murder had run a shudder through the Troy household. If, his Mother had protested, the arm of Josef Vissarionovich Stalin, reached all the way to Mexico, then who in Europe was safe? Troy’s father had remained unruffled. He was, he pointed out, no threat to Stalin, no renegade red and, better still, no exiled white. Stalin would not bother with him. Rod had strongly urged him to seek official protection, to talk to Churchill, and the old man had firmly and unpolitely refused.
Troy looked at the clock and felt lazy. He could go back to sleep for another hour, perhaps two. He was on the late shift and would not see his bed again before midnight. Besides, Kitty had not been round for a day or two—it would be just like her to turn up tonight, so he decided to sleep while he could.