Book Review: John Lawton’s Black Out

Posted July 26, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: John Lawton’s Black Out

Black Out


John Lawton

spy thriller, thriller that was published by Penguin on December 31, 2002 and has 416 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

First in the Inspector Troy thriller series and revolving around a Scotland Yard cop who pursues his man in 1944 London.

My Take

I enjoyed Black Out, although I’m not sure if I’ll continue with the series. Then again, the way the story ended makes me wonder what Troy did. And I do want an answer to Major Toskevich’s obscure statement. Inquiring minds want to know!

Lawton’s technical writing is amazing — I only remember a few blips that bugged me. As for creating a pull…no. Sure I wanted to know if and when Troy got the bad guy, but I didn’t feel invested in him.

Nor did those obscure clues help. I felt as though Troy was getting a lot more information than I was. I sure don’t see why MI5 needs Troy to do the investigating. Why was Tosca so quickly accommodating? How could (and why) he be so stupid about Diana? What about her perfume?? How did Troy make that connection between the victims?

Lawton did pull me in with the setting. I was there. I felt the London of 1944 with its manners, culture, clothing, attitudes (!), the lack, and the rationing. I suspect how casually the police treated evidence and bodies — they stuck the arm out the window to keep it cold! — would drive today’s cops wild. That bit about Heath Row being built. That new term, air port? What’s wrong with aerodrome? Yep, it definitely felt real.

I did enjoy the outraged wife selling off her straying husband’s toys, lol.

Onions says that Troy is one of his bright boys, but I sure wouldn’t want to hang around him too much. He gets blown up, beat up, shot up, lost half a kidney, and more, multiple times.

The Story

A neatly dismembered corpse leads DS Troy into a world of stateless refugees, military intelligence, and corruption all the way to the top of Allied High Command.

The Characters

Detective Sergeant Frederick Troy has been a cop for the past years, five with the Murder Squad at Scotland Yard and has a grudge against England. “He’s homeless in the heart.” Rod is his eight years older brother and flying for the RAF. Masha and Sasha are his older twin sisters. Their husbands are Hugh who captains a minesweeper and Lawrence who has a staff job at the War Office. Sir Alexei Troy had been his father who had run a newspaper. Maria Mikhailovna is his very practical mother. Uncle Nikolai Rodyonovich is passionately pro-British with a preference for his soapbox on Speaker’s Corner. He’s also Professor Troitsky, the leader of the Applied Physics department at Imperial College. (Troy’s family are all Russian immigrants with Troy the only one born in England.) I think Troy’s grandfather, Rodyon Rodyonovich, was part of Troy’s dream. Ruby the Whore plies her trade near Troy’s front door.

Scotland Yard
Ladislaw Kolankiewicz is the senior pathologist at Hendon; Anna Pakenham is his stenographer. (Anna’s husband, Angus, is in Colditz.) Constable Jack Wildeve is as uppercrust as Troy and are both bright young men. Superintendent Stan Onions is their squad commander. Sergeant Flint is in charge of records, and there doesn’t seem to be much security on those. Constables Gutteridge and Thomson aren’t much use. Detective Inspector Tom Henrey gets shown up. Ex-Regimental Sergeant Major Peacock is in charge of the guns and gun range.

Leman Street Station in Stepney
Sergeant George Bonham was Troy’s first supervisor. He and his beloved wife, Ethel, (who died in an air raid) took Troy in.

Terence “Tub” Flanagan brought in the arm. Patsy Flanagan is his mother. Shrimp Robertson found the rest. Michael McGee is another neighbor worried about Peter Wolinski, a Polish immigrant. Seems he, Gregor von Ranke, and Bertoldt Brand were colleagues and Communists. Sydney Edelmann leads a Communist group. H.G. Wells is still alive. Alf is the landlord of the Merchant.

City of London Police
Former Inspector Malnick is a braggart who slid suspiciously easy into a military slot.

Squadron Leader Neville Pym is their liaison with the Metropolitan Police. He’s also an ex-schoolmate of Troy’s. Charlie had been Troy’s closest friend at school, and Pym’s lover. Muriel Edge is an F4 section head. Her boss is Roger Hollis who is a divisional director, and he answers to Sir David Petrie.

Special Branch
Detective Sergeant Melvyn Miller has been tailing a suspect for months. Charlie Walsh had been his chief inspector.

Lady Diana Brack is a thorn in her father’s (the nasty Marquess of Fermanagh) backside with her constant questions and hatred for the social rounds required of a lady. She lives on Tite Street. Her brothers, George and Johnny, toed the line and are drunks and lounge lizards. Mr. Pumphret is Fermanagh’s lawyer. There’s an old gent with his prize pig at the allotment.

Driberg is a reporter Troy’s dad had tried to entice over. Sir William Beveridge speaks of a new idea, a Welfare State. Winston Churchill is prime minister. Sidney Webb is a social planner. Herbert, a.k.a., Danny the Deserter, is in the black market.

The Americans
Colonel “Zelly” Zelig is supposedly Pym’s opposite number. Sergeant Lara Tosca is Zelig’s secretary and lives on Orange Street. Major James Wayne is with OSS. David Bruce is the OSS station head in London. Wild Bill Donovan runs OSS in Washington. General Ike Eisenhower is in command of the army. Lou is one of the guards at Norfolk House. Colonel John Baumgarner is with CIA after the war and running the airlift in Germany.

Corporal Duvitski was an American soldier. Bernard Leahy is the axe man. Sir Willoughby Wright is the prosecutor in the Leahy case. Alfred “The Spider” Maxwell Golding is the man Malnick fingers.

Franz Todt was Hitler’s resource manager, a job taken over by Albert Speer. Inspector Deiter Frank is at the Uhlandstrasse Police Station and does some profiling. Cosima is his loved wife. Lance Bombardier Clark, a.k.a., Swifty, will drive Troy around Berlin. Marius von Asche is the pilot of LH133. Major Toskevich is with the NKVD.

The Cover and Title

The top of the cover is a background of foggy gray with a perspective shot of Big Ben surrounded by the silhouettes of three airplanes. The bottom is a solid black showcasing the bright yellow of the author’s name. Separating the two is the black title surrounded in a white glow.

The title is what London and Troy endure in their own ways: a Black Out.