His 2007 novel Second Violin puts co-protagonist Rod Troy in one of Winston Churchill's internment camps for internal aliens. There, Lawton offers the funniest and most moving portrait of national character I have read in any crime novel.
A Little White Death, published nine years earlier, has Rod's brother Frederick, Scotland Yard's chief detective, in a sanitarium recuperating from tuberculosis. Troy knows he will hate his confinement, yet two of his fellow inmates — a sharp-tongued workingman and an old general — are both more than they seem and vehicles for Lawton to poke and probe English class structure.
Why do you think Lawton set the scenes where he did? What makes confined settings attractive to a writer?
A Little White Death takes place in 1963, just before "The Sixties" hit Britain with full force. The characters, of course, have nothing more than ominous presentiments, but we — and Lawton — know everything: Carnaby Street, sexual openness, the reaction against sexual openness, the rapid commodification of personality, police brutality and more.
Lawton finds several ways to foreshadow this — retrospective foreshadowing, one might call it — most effectively in understated accounts of police brutality and in references to police lying. In the latter cases especially, we readers are clearly meant to reflect bitterly that 1963 England could still be shocked at such a possibility. More on this interesting subject, perhaps, later.
© Peter Rozovsky 2010