Review

Old Flames

by John Lawton



I had a hard time figuring out how to review this book. Maybe I
tried to take it too seriously (British humor can catch me unaware,
although I adore it). Or maybe I was just too lazy to keep track of
the myriad plot reversals and story twists. But, in my defense, I
felt Lawton had a tendency to overindulge in adjectives (in
flagrant opposition to the book I finished just prior to OLD
FLAMES, in which finding a sentence with both a noun and a verb was
a cause for celebration). Despite that, he has crafted a complex,
richly imagined tale set during the height of the infamous Cold
War. And much of the feel of elaborate detailing may be due to his
filmmaking background. At times, the book reads like a colorful
script, the set described with painstaking particularity.

Imagine this: It is 1956, London. Chief Inspector Freddie Troy ---
first introduced in BLACK OUT --- finds himself volunteering, under
some duress, to be bodyguard for Nikita Kruschev during the
Russian's visit to England. It's Troy's little secret that he
understands Kruschev's language perfectly well and the British
government wants him to keep it his secret, even listen in whenever
possible and, naturally, report back any interesting tidbits. As
assignments go, it's not too bad until a corpse shows up, that of
an apparent Royal Navy diver killed while spying on Kruschev's
ship. Troy undertakes to solve the problem of the frogman's
identity and to unravel the mystery of his mission and who killed
him. But, to complicate matters, nearly every direction he turns to
search for answers leads him to another dead body. And each dead
body reveals another layer of intrigue. Wedged in with his pursuit
of clues, he squeezes in a few romantic encounters and some
nostalgic ones. The relationships intertwine with the
investigations, making them inseparable from one another.

OLD FLAMES is a virtual cornucopia of detail. It contains a
plethora of personalities, plot twists and storylines. Characters
abound. Lawton keeps you on your toes trying to figure out who's
who, on what side and why. Motives must be questioned; backgrounds
have to be taken into account. But, while intricately plotted, the
book seemed a slow starter. In fairness, though, just about the
time I was complaining vociferously about the plodding action, it
hit dead on, full force and continued relentlessly. The wrap-up
sneaked up on me. It kind of left me breathless. Take the time to
walk through the first several chapters; you will find yourself
running through the rest.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 22, 2011

Old Flames
by John Lawton

  • Publication Date: December 30, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0142003735
  • ISBN-13: 9780142003732