The Inspector Frederick Troy series is unique. Troy is the son of a Russian emigre turned British media mogul, well-educated and very wealthy. Troy does not have to work but his commitment to Scotland Yard and his success as an investigator keeps him, to his dismay, out of uniform during World War II. His family is eccentric, some unwilling to let their Russian view of life merge with the reality of their lives in England.
There are seven books in the series. In the introduction to the review of SECOND VIOLIN, I mention the confusion for those of us who read the books as published. The series is unusual, reflective of the political and social realities of Europe in the period between the wars. The books combine to become a history of the times wrapped around well-written thrillers. It really is best to read these in order of publication.
SECOND VIOLIN – John Lawton
John Lawton confused most followers of the Inspector Troy series by not publishing the books in chronological order. SECOND VIOLIN is the sixth book in the Inspector Frederick Troy series to be published but it is a prequel and as such it should be the first book read by anyone who wishes to try this series. This is a review of SECOND VIOLIN.
The activities of the Troy family make much more sense if SECOND VIOLIN is read first. The seventh book, A LILY OF THE FIELD, has just been released. The prologue is dated 1948; the first chapter begins in Vienna in 1934. According to a list at the beginning of A LILY OF THE FIELD, the order in which the books should be read chronologically as opposed to date of publication is as follows:
SECOND VIOLIN, BLUFFING MR. CHURCHILL, BLACK OUT, A LILY OF THE FIELD, OLD FLAMES, FLESH WOUNDS, and A LITTLE WHITE DEATH.
Happily, I have a copy of A LILY OF THE FIELD which I will be reviewing next week.
Inspector Frederick Troy is the youngest child of Alexei, an immigrant from Russia, who wields considerable influence in political circles in England as a newspaper mogul and political columnist. When the book opens in 1938, Troy’s older brother, a foreign correspondent for his father’s paper, is in Berlin. Against his father’s wishes, Rod goes to Vienna to see the aftermath of Anschluss. One night Rod steps into a fight and saves the life of ‘Joe’ a Jewish tailor. His action is witnessed by Wolfgang Stahl, an officer with the SD. He arrests Rod but puts him on a plane, forcing him to leave Austria to go to the security of England.
Yet, when Rod returns to England, he discovers that he is not safe. Unlike his younger brother, Rod was not born in England but in Austria and, as Europe moves towards war, he is classified as a “stateless” person. He is ordered to an internment camp on the Isle of Man to join other stateless persons such as the Jews and Italians who had made their lives in England and who thought themselves valued members of British society.
Frederick Troy is a member of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad but he is pressed into service rounding up other stateless persons in the neighborhoods of London he had patrolled at the beginning of his career. Both brothers begin to question if they are truly “English” or is that a status that will always be closed to them despite their money and their success.
Then, as the bombs begin falling on London, a rabbi is murdered and then another and another. Freddie decides that, even in the midst of war, the taking of even one life must be punished. On the Isle of Man, Rod again meets Joe and, with the other stateless persons of London, they form an alliance for survival.
SECOND VIOLIN is the story of how far a country might be willing to go when circumstances force neighbors and friends into the role of “other”. The internment camps in England were real; the pro-Nazi aristocracy was real; a hit list of dissenters was real. In an historical note, Lawton writes that he believes that the rest of the world becomes “other” when respect for humanity and differences is lost, when that which makes us human is also lost. SECOND VIOLIN is a complex story set in a complex time but it is an uplifting story of men who learn they can rise above circumstances beyond their control and earn their right to be part of the whole.
The Inspector Troy series is significant because it gives those of us who were born after WW II and into the 1950′s some idea of the challenges faced by people who wanted to do the right thing despite the atmosphere and the leadership that had taken over Europe. It is worth contemplating the circumstances birthed by WW I and the Depression that led to the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, and Stalin in the Soviet Union.