I first heard of John Lawton on crime fiction blogs, and I first heard him read at New York's late Partners & Crime mystery bookshop. His series protagonist, Frederick Troy, is with London's Metropolitan Police, and Lawton attends crime fiction conventions now and then. But when I wrote that Lawton reminded me more of Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell or even, in spots, P.G. Wodehouse than of crime writers, a reader huzzahed all the way from Canada. He wrote, too, that he was baffled by the occasional descriptions of Lawton's books as spy novels. So, is Lawton a crime writer, or a spy writer, or what? If not, why do some people say he is? And does it matter? I sought answers from the source, and here's what Lawton had to say:
can't recall any discussion with my editor at Weidenfeld – Ion Trewin, who edited all my work until the move to Grove – as to genre. Black Out
had no tags. Nor did any subsequent novel. I was reviewed as either fiction or crime. It wasn't an issue. `Genre' is a tag neither to be sought nor resisted. Like a book prize – neither sought nor resisted.
“It's flattering to be told `this book transcends genre,' but it's not a phrase that holds up to scrutiny. Five nano-seconds later, you're asking yourself, `What does he/she think is inferior about genre writing?' And when toastmasters at crime gigs harp on about crime being `as good as literature,' you think, `So what?' And when a crime novel is deemed `too literary,' you think, `Ain't no such critter.'
“It's marketing ... whatever gets you on the shelves and then off the shelves and into hands. And marketing is different country to country.
“I first became aware of an `invisible' crime tag only when the CWA called in (so I was told) Riptide
for consideration for the Ellis Peters Award
. As I said, you don't seek it and you don't resist it. It's only an issue if you win – who in their right mind, after all, would want to sit through an award ceremony they didn't have to?
come to mind.
“The book after this was Sweet Sunday
. Ion and I agreed this wasn't `crime.' Still ... it got reviewed as crime. But a review is a review ... not to be knocked. Better by a yard and a half than being ignored.
“And a few years later I was asked in an interview to categorize myself. I said something like ... `historical, political thrillers with a big splash of romance, wrapped up in a coat of noir.' What they're not is mysteries, and I think there is a tendency to assume that crime and mystery are synonymous. They're not.
“There are crimes in most of my novels. Occasionally unsolved. They aren't there to be `solved;' they're a propellant to drive the book along.
“Pretentious bit coming up ... I don't think I'm doing anything different from my immediate contemporaries. ... McEwan, Faulks, Amis, Hare, Turow (all born within months of me). ... In intent.
“That said, I've never written anything set in the present, and none of them has written a series around a policeman. Scott Turow is regarded as `crime' – he has no problem with this. (I asked him.) And at this point the sensible thing to say is, if Scott has no problem with `crime' neither should I.”
— John Lawton
ere's Lawton's Web site
with essays and other information about the Troy novels. Here's a New York Times review
that asks: "Is there any genre convention John Lawton hasn’t boldly disregarded, often to brilliant effect? "
John Lawton will be part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m.
© Peter Rozovsky 2012
Labels: Bouchercon, Bouchercon 2013, conventions, England, Frederick Troy, John Lawton, War, World War II