John Lawton on Winston Churchill, time machines and American crime fiction
And consider his reply when I asked about the occasional wisecrack amid the grim subject matter of his novel Second Violin: "I think Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues) raised the bar of what you can get away with combining serious" with humorous.
This novel, sixth in Lawton's series about wartime and postwar London, is a prequel to the first five. This time the story begins in 1938, and Lawton's usual protagonist, the here-young police officer Frederick Troy, does not appear until page 124. Why a prequel and why Troy's late appearance? Lawton says that "I love time machines" and that he loved the chance to explore a different, earlier time in the lives of his country and his main character: "If you can write the same books fifty times over, you'd be Robert B. Parker." (And remember, Lawton is no genre snob. He likes Parker's work and says he regards the novels as variants, if not repetitions.)
And consider Lawton's reason for writing the novel: Britain's wartime roundups of aliens born in enemy or potentially enemy nations. This even though many had been in Britain for decades or were refugees, many Jewish, from the very countries with which Britain was at war. To paraphrase Lawton's opinion of the policy gently, he believes it was not Churchill's finest hour.
Beginning the action in 1938 lets Lawton unfold slowly the awful experiences of those refugees who made their way from Hell and Austria to Britain, only to be shunted off to internment.
More to come, including discussion of the murders, of which there has been one so far about halfway into the novel, almost an afterthought amid the book's tragic and absurd historical sweep.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008