Black Out: 2a Novel

John Lawton, Author
John Lawton, Author Viking Books $22.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-670-85767-8
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-14-024081-8
Paperback - 392 pages - 978-0-14-200276-6
Analog Audio Cassette - 900 pages - 978-1-85695-248-4
Compact Disc - 978-0-7531-1570-1
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Lawton's first novel, a conventional thriller set in London during the last months of WWII, concerns a Scotland Yard detective's entanglement with MI5 and the OSS as he tracks down the killer of scientists studying the Nazi atomic rocketry program. Sergeant Frederick Troy, a crack sleuth whose feelings about England are mixed for family reasons, is called to solve a murder with no more evidence than a severed arm dropped in front of a boy by a dog. The arm, it turns out, belonged to a refugee German scientist working for British intelligence. Some of the plot elements and turns here are overly familiar: characters who fake their own deaths; sexy women who turn out to be spies; the way everyone seems to be following everyone else; a conspiracy that goes right to the top. Curiously, certain other events are nearly inexplicable--such as when, after imprisoning a female suspect for three days and exposing her to a decaying corpse in order to break her will, Troy releases her, and the two fall in love. Many of Lawton's characters are men, often large, impressive and gruff, including a surly boss, a swearing forensics expert and a sharp young assistant, while his women tend to be wily, or standard types like the friendly whore named Ruby. And his prose, which rarely leaps and never soars, too often tends toward the corny (``the grotesque puppet that was death''; ``It's over. It was over years ago''). Nevertheless, blessed with a brisk pace, this novel is likely to keep readers turning pages, though they occasionally may pause to wonder why. (May).
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