Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Old Flames

An Inspector Troy Thriller

by John Lawton

“A rich mixture of political intrigue and old-fashioned mayhem. . . . Tangled webs of deceit are standard in mysteries, but British author John Lawton takes the idea to nearly Shakespearean heights.” —Baltimore Sun

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 432
  • Publication Date February 07, 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4554-3
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00

About The Book

It is April 1956 at the height of the Cold War: Khrushchev and Bulganin, leaders of the Soviet Union, are in Britain on an official visit. Chief Inspector Troy of Scotland Yard, son of a distinguished Russian émigré, is assigned to be Khrushchev’s bodyguard and to spy on him. Soon after, a Royal Navy diver is found dead and mutilated beyond recognition in Portsmouth Harbor. What was he doing under the hull of Khrushchev’s ship, and who sent him there? Is the corpse that of Arnold Cockerell, a furniture salesman with a mysterious source of income and a bizarre fetish for scuba gear, or did Cockerell fake his own death to escape an unknown nemesis? And what did Khrushchev mean when he leaned over at the dinner table and whispered, “Do It”?

Troy embarks on an investigation that takes him to the rotten heart of M16, to the distant days of his childhood, and into the dangerous arms of an old flame, Larissa Tosca, late of the U.S. Army, later still of Khrushchev’s KGB. As the mystery of Cockerell deepens—was he a spy or a red herring? agent or double agent?—inexplicable murders begin following Troy wherever he goes, and now they are getting closer and closer to home.

Brilliantly evoking the intrigue of the Cold War and 1950s London, Old Flames is a thrilling adventure of intrigue and suspense. It is “a lucid, disenchanted view of crimes past, quite brilliantly presented, with nostalgia kept at bay and every inducement to find your own perspective” (Philip Oakes, The Literary Review).


“Uncommonly smart and engrossing. . . . If you yearn for stylish, sophisticated, suspenseful fiction, you need look no further. . . . [Lawton is] a world-class talent. . . . There is the excellence of Lawton’s writing. . . . [and] the plot is a tantalizing one. . . . A fictional tour de force that provides a vivid portrait of a Khrushchev who is just as belligerent as you thought but also smarter and more charming.” —Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post

“A smart, well-crafted, very British book, and Troy is a shrewd and irreverent policeman.. . . . If Troy is the character at the heart of this novel, its soul is England as it was during the Cold War years, a country fueled by paranoia and espionage, overrun with agents and counter-agents, caught up, as Troy says, in ‘an age that specialized in thinking the unthinkable.’” —Anne Stephenson, USA Today

“Stuffed with all sorts of marvelous thoughts, characters and moments . . . Lawton is one of the unsung (at least until now) heroes of the genre, as good as Le Carré at pointing out how England’s climate breeds such hardy spies.” —Dick Adler, The Chicago Tribune

“Lawton, who has a delightful way with metaphor, sprinkles his yarn with a variety of names that have long lain dormant in our American memories. . . . Winston Churchill makes a priceless appearance. . . . Troy is exquisitely drawn. He’s a cynic at heart not because of any dour view of humanity, but because he’s not at home in Britain or the Soviet Union.” —Jim Fusilli, The Boston Globe

“Anyone with an appreciation for the details of the Cold War has to marvel at a book that features Scotland Yard, Nikita Khrushchev, Guy Burgess, and a money-laundering scheme centered on Swedish modernist furniture.” —Daniel Fierman, Entertainment Weekly

“A rich mixture of political intrigue and old-fashioned mayhem. . . . Tangled webs of deceit are standard in mysteries, but British author John Lawton takes the idea to nearly Shakespearean heights.” —Baltimore Sun

“Some books are at least as important to life as eating. . . . Old Flames is a book that I would forgo eating to read again. . . . Convoluted without being complicated and fast paced while remaining completely believable, Old Flames is the consummate novel about the Cold War. Readers are led deep into a world of spies, double agents, red herrings, femmes fatales and murders.” —Peter Mergendahl, The Rocky Mountain News

“There are many ingredients in this book, including the complex emotional past of Troy and his siblings . . . and Troy’s mocking view of British intelligence and law enforcement. But the heart of the story is the paranoia and changing allegiances of the Cold War, when even the best friends and colleagues were capable of betrayal.” —The Arizona Republic

“Mesmerizing. . . . Dryly funny, smartly written, slightly macabre and richly evocative of its Cold War setting. Lawton’s got a knack for nuanced character.” —Adam Woog, The Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer

“Scorchingly clever. . . . An intriguing synthesis of genres. . . . Part Len Deighton, part John le Carré, part P.D. James, and all original. Lawton paints a vivid background of time and place, populates it with unusual and interesting people . . . and entangles them in a deliciously intricate game of life, death, betrayals and lies, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. The result is a ripping good read that celebrates two 20th-century British literary traditions propelling them into the 21st century.” —L.D. Meagher, CNN.com

“A complex, richly imagined tale set during the height of the infamous Cold War. . . . Old Flames is a cornucopia of detail. It contains a plethora of personalities, plot twists and storylines.” —Kate Ayers, Bookreporter

“[Lawton] re-creates an era through its sights, smells, clothing and catchphrases. . . . You feel as if you are in pre-Beatles England with the lingering physical scars of the Blitz and mental scars of men who had been to war.” —Tom Blackburn, Palm Beach Post

“A riveting spy novel sparked by historical events, with a twisting, turning spellbinding plot.” —Mostly Fiction

“Lawton integrates events and attitudes of post-war England in a fast-paced intelligent thriller.” —Dick Saxe, Mystery News

“Sexy and clever. . . . Lawton’s taking the real story of the infamous British “frogman spy” and weaving it into a murder story fraught with Cold War intrigue and post-war Brit politics is all quite clever. . . . Mystery fans with a taste for espionage and history should find Lawton’s novel satisfying.” —Kim Crawford, Flint Journal

“Filled with slick Cold War intrigue. . . . The hot spy-on-spy action is fun, and Lawton evokes a realistically eerie 1956 London. . . . With some clever twists on the old spy-novel genre.” —Pages

“[A] complex, evocative tale. . . . Lawton has created an effective genre-bending novel that is at once a cerebral thriller and an uproarious, deliciously English spoof. . . . The author cleverly uses his protagonist and a motley crew of secondaries to meditate on WWII nostalgia . . . and the settling chill of the Cold War.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A Cold War thriller that bids fair to catapult its author into le Carr”/Furst territory. . . . Lawton’s brooding, sophisticated prose effectively captures a troubled era. Peopled by flawed adults struggling to know and act on the truth in a time of moral turmoil, Old Flames is unforgettable.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A splash of Greene, a twist of Deighton, a small measure of history—Lawton has produced a thrilling cocktail. . . . The cast of characters—both borrowed and invented—is as rich, rounded and eccentrically plausible as any in recent thriller fiction. Great stuff.” —The Times (London)

“Lawton’s style is intricate, precise . . . always arresting. . . . He portrays [his characters] with subtlety, depth and conviction. . . . This is a strange, thoughtful, quiet, intelligent spellbinder of a book, penetrating the very heart of betrayal.” —The Sunday Times (London)

“A quietly enjoyable book, packed with amusing and tragic characters, both historical and imaginary, rich in period detail and political interest.” —Morning Star

“An early candidate for Thumping Good Thriller of the Year . . . No angst, no darkness, just the joy of a plot racing along in overdrive.” —Maxim Jakubowski, Time Out (London)

Old Flames is dipped in truth, with Lawton using incidents that circulated around the time of the Suez crisis to build a thrilling story of espionage and intrigue. . . . Lawton is a writer who revels in being steeped in the past.” —Sterling Observer

“This is a must. It is well written, hugely enjoyable, a splendid plot and with a magnificent cast of characters. Apart from that it truly evokes the spirit of 1956 England, not quite cold war and not quite pre-war . . . An intelligent book where the spying is tangential to the plot.” —Angela Morgan, Crime and Detective Stories

“It’s post-WWII London and Chief Inspector Troy of Scotland Yard is embroiled in a Russian/British diplomatic incident. The gripping plot wends its way across Cold War Europe, twisting through a spy ring and the murder of a Royal Navy officer. All this makes us wait eagerly for Lawton’s next book.” —Betsy Burton, The King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, UT, Book Sense quote


A Book Sense 76 Selection


Out in the Commons yard, in the April drizzle, Khrushchev was raging.

“Oni nasrali na Rossi! Oni nasrali na Rossi! They shit on Russia! They shit on Russia!”

He bellowed at the embassy staff, bellowed at Bulganin, and when his translator moved to get into the Daimler he snatched Rod’s list from his hand and firmly pointed him to the escort car. Troy followed, assuming he meant to simmer alone, but Khrushchev stopped him with a hand on his sleeve.

“No,” he said, almost calm. “Not you. You get in the back.”

The car moved off towards Victoria and Hyde Park Corner —Clark in the front with the driver, the dividing screen fully closed, and Troy in the back with quite possibly the most powerful man on earth, wondering what on earth was coming next. Khrushchev looked out of the window of the moving car, not speaking to Troy.

As they passed Westminster Cathedral he turned his head and ducked to get a look at the looming redbrick tower, but still he said nothing. No tourist question. No tasteless black joke. At Hyde Park Corner he took Rod’s list from his inside pocket and looked at it for a moment or two. As his hand slid the folded paper back into his pocket, his eyes still focused on the street outside, he asked “Who was he? The man with the names.”

“My brother,” Troy answered.

“And where did you boys learn your Russian?”

“At home. In the nursery. From our parents.”

“From your parents,” Khrushchev echoed flatly—it sounded to Troy more like realization, a gentle mulling over, than a question.

“The family name is Troitsky.”

“Aha . . . Whites!”

Khrushchev at last looked at Troy. A glint of triumph in the nutty little eyes.

“No,” Troy replied. “Nineteen-o-fivers.”


“More like Anarchists I think. But that was a long time ago.”

“Indeed. And now?”

“My brother as you will have gathered has made his peace with history and joined the Labour Party—whatever you might think they are Social Democrats, no more, no less than that.”

“And you?”

“I’m a policeman. I have no politics.”

“If a Soviet policeman made such a statement to me I’d have him fired for thinking I was stupid. You don’t think there’s a sentient being on this planet who can honestly say he has no politics, do you?”

Of course Khrushchev was right. Troy knew that. Years ago, in Berlin, not long after the war, a Russian spy had told him that his father had been an agent of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ever since leaving Russia in the chaos of 1905. Frequently Troy had thought about this. It was something he did not want to believe, and in the end was something he had chosen not to believe. It was certainly not a conversation he wished to have with the First Secretary of that party.

“Where are you from?” Khrushchev asked.

“Moscow mostly. Before that Yasnaya Polyana. It’s near Tula.”

“I know where it is. I’ve been there several times. The place is virtually a Tolstoy museum now.”

“I envy you, Comrade Khrushchev. I’ve never seen it. I don’t suppose I ever will.”

“Come to Russia.”

Troy looked at Khrushchev. He was smiling. Perhaps he even meant it.

“I don’t think that’s possible. My family history is a bit more complicated than I could tell you.”

“Come to Russia,” he said again. “I’ll show you a good time. Better than this dreary traipsing round the monuments of Britain.”

“You’ve met Eden. You’ve met the Queen and the Duke. It hasn’t all been St Paul’s and the Tower.”

“Eden’s a monument. The Royals are monuments.”

Troy agreed wholeheartedly, but felt it was not for him to say so at this or any other juncture.

“Where are the people? Where are the workers?” The fat little hands, with their stubby little fingers spread outwards, emphatically open and empty. “Where are the peasants?”

Khrushchev had a point. The crowds had been thin on the ground from the start. B & K had been somewhat less than mobbed. In anticipation Troy had assumed that the visit would be little different from visiting royalty or a personal appearance by Frank Sinatra or Johnnie Ray—in reality he had almost begun to wonder if the English had been told to stay home, or if, perhaps, Gone With The Wind was showing nightly on ITV.

“I doubt the English have any peasants. And you met a worker on Saturday. You just chose to shortchange him.”

“You mean at Harwell?” Khrushchev was almost shouting again. “The man was an Eden apparatchik! A stooge!”

Quickly Troy weighed up the risk and concluded it was worth it. After all his cover was blown, and with it probably the cover of the entire squad, and he would, no doubt, find himself resuming his holiday with a flea in his ear from the Branch, on the morrow.

“With all respect Comrade Khrushchev, he wasn’t. He was speaking his mind. Quite possibly the only person you’ve talked to this entire trip who has. And I do not mean by that that I question the integrity of George Brown or of my brother, but they, like you, are politicians.”

Troy paused. In for a penny, in for a thousand roubles he thought. If Khrushchev was about to explode again, sobeit. He would be the one to light the blue touch paper, and with any luck he would be the one to retire safely. It really was irresistible.

“If you were to ask me, I would tell you that the trip, for you and for the Marshal, has been a diplomatic contrivance on both sides. Your own side doesn’t want you meeting the people. It’s a waste of their time. They’d far rather you chewed the fat with a dimwit like Eden or exchanged brown bears and harmless pleasantries with Her Majesty. The British don’t want you meeting the people. They’d far rather you were perceived as someone stripped of normal human feeling by the godlessness of Marxism. The last thing Eden wants is you pressing the flesh among the proles.”

Troy paused again. Cobb would surely fire him the minute he learnt that Khrushchev had seen through their pathetic charade? He had nothing to lose, not a damn thing.

“However if that’s what you want, it’s not yet nine thirty and I’m sure something could be arranged.”

Khrushchev twinkled. Mischief rippling out across those chubby cheeks, lighting up the impish eyes.

“An English pub?”

“If you like.”

“A pint of ‘wallop?’”

“That’s what they’re for.”

“The Metro?”

“We call it the Tube, but if that’s what you want I’d be happy to show it to you.”

Troy looked back at Khrushchev, resisting the grin that threatened to split at any second. The best, surely, was yet to come.

“Ditch the embassy people,” he said. “And we’ll go on somewhere.”

The phrase pleased Troy enormously. He was not at all sure he’d ever used it before or that his Russian rendered it precisely. It was a man’s phrase, Charlie’s phrase, the turn of phrase men like Charlie used to pick up women or to armtwist old mates into drinking longer after tolerance of pub crawling had expired. Somehow it seemed wholly appropriate for the daring into which he now tempted Comrade Khrushchev.