She stood at the top, just visible beyond the curve, and slinked into view.
He would not have missed this for the world. Her hair piled high on her head, her body sheathed in a scarlet dress that all but swept the floor. On the first half-landing she spun, and he could see that the dress, low-cut in the front, was even lower cut in the back. She glided towards him.
[Later, Troy meets a semi-colleague for the first time] Jordan had been right in his description – tall, dark and handsome. Indeed Kearney looked remarkably like the depiction of James Bond on the paperback of Casino Royale – the strong profile, the ever-errant lock of hair, the unfeeling brown eyes. The same cover on which Vesper Lynd was shown wearing the red dress Venetia had worn that night…
commentary: I rarely use pictures of dresses without a person inside, but this particular dress was so very much the right one … It is a 1955 Balenciaga evening dress, and is currently on show at the V&A museum in London. It is stunningly beautiful, and a masterpiece of design and construction.
John Lawton says his books can be read in any order. Len Deighton says the same about his Berlin triple trilogy, and I argued politely about that here. And now I would take issue with Lawton too – what are these authors thinking? I have read a lot of books by John Lawton, most of them dealing with the scandals, crimes and spy dramas of British life in the 1950s and 1960s. I always enjoy them, but they jump about all over the place, and presuppose an awful lot of knowledge about real life, and about Lawton’s books, and about quite a lot of other books as well – for example there is a character who would seem to be a resurrection of Margery Allingham’s Magersfontein Lugg, though he is not named as such.
This one was nudging at the end of my patience for the remarkable life of Frederick Troy - though I did enjoy the work colleagues who made a list of all the people who had died in close proximity to him, including many policemen, and remarked how very suspicious that was. Well, exactly.
The books are meant to take an unsentimental and unblinkered view of the shady world of spies and criminals, but the hero Troy is unfathomably rich, lives in great comfort both in a Central London flat and a country house, and is smoothly well-connected, with his family (including his brother the Home Secretary) knowing anyone of any power and importance in the land. He is also magnetically attractive to all women. All of them. They can’t wait to jump into bed with him. He is marginally less convincing and more fairytale than James Bond in this respect: I read all the James Bond books last year, so feel I am in a position to judge.
And Lawton has plainly been looking at James Bond, as in the extract above. In fact Vesper Lynd does not wear a red dress in Casino Royale, though she does wear a red pleated cotton skirt at one point. The key dress she does wear is black velvet, and it is used to silence and blindfold her in a peculiarly unpleasant image.
Still – the story was compelling and twisted and turned satisfyingly. Troy was shown to be a long-time acquaintance of the strange spy Guy Burgess. The early part of this book deals with early meetings between them between 1938 and the 1950s: then we jump to a connection between the two men later. There is the usual mistrust and uncertainty.
I think anyone who really enjoys spy stories will have time for this book… and probably the whole series.
The only Lawton book I have looked at on the blog was a non-fiction account of the Profumo Affair (that Mandy Rice-Davies hat!).
Earlier this year Joseph Kanon produced an excellent book called Defectors, again about the British spies who fled to Moscow in the 1950s – I used the same photo of Guy Burgess and Tom Driberg.
I have mentioned before that I am always on a watch for the word ‘credenza’ in books – usually a piece of office furniture in US crime novels of the 80s and 90s. In this book we have a Chippendale credenza! Stay classy, Lawton.