Book review: Friends and Traitors by John Lawton

friends and traitors john lawtonFriends and Traitors has more of the feel of a literary novel than thriller but to me, that is not a bad thing. It’s the latest in the series featuring Freddie Troy (and the first I’ve read) and follows his interactions with British diplomat and Soviet agent Guy Burgess through the mid-twentieth century.

Freddie is the son of a Russian émigré, a man who is wealthy and well connected, a newspaper proprietor and baronet. However his father, a widely read and intellectually curious man, is all too aware of his precarious status and that public opinion could turn at any moment against him and his family.

Freddie embraces the outsider identity by electing not to join the normal professions of the upper classes. Instead he has decided to be a police officer. The book begins with a dinner party at his father’s home, where he first meets Burgess, shortly before he is due to start at Hendon police college.

They have a number of chance encounters in the years before Burgess’ defection and the book briefly shifts into Burgess’ point of view to show us his defection to Moscow and the shape his life takes afterwards. But it is only about two-thirds of the way into the book, when Troy’s family holiday in Vienna is thrown into chaos by a meeting Burgess has engineered, that the thriller element of the story begins.

Freddie’s relationship with Burgess is a nuanced one. He is aware of the artifice of Burgess’s public persona, but still somehow intrigued by him, as if watching a great performer at work.

This is a fragmentary story but an atmospheric one. I enjoyed Troy’s wonderfully flamboyant family, his relationships with police colleagues, his opinions on a changing society and the interweaving of real historical figures and events. The depiction of the Blitz was particularly vivid.

Friends and Traitors gives a fascinating perspective on the Establishment of the time, what has changed – and what hasn’t. There are references to Troy’s past cases, to events in his life going on in the background, and to the way Troy, with his Russian language skills and unique connections, has previously been co-opted into espionage cases. I hope these aren’t spoilers for the earlier novels, as I’m now very keen to read more about Freddie Troy.

I received a copy of Friends and Traitors from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Friends and Traitors on Goodreads

Like spy novels? Take a look at my review of World War Two thriller A Treachery of Spies by Manda Scott

 

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