Inspector Frederick Troy has never been one to follow advice, and when his family was warned to avoid Guy Burgess, Troy avoided the advice. Not that Troy was exactly fond of Burgess, thinking of him as more the bad penny always turning up than any sort of confidante. Though who would confide in anyone as indiscreet and reckless as Burgess was a puzzle.

Friends and Traitors presents Troy’s tepid friendship throughout the years from their meeting in 1935 to the day Burgess infamously defected to the Soviet Union with MacLean, one of the Eton spies whose betrayal encompassed a third man, a fourth, and possibly several more. You would think having defected and decamped to Russia, Burgess would finally stop impinging on Troy’s life, but no such luck.

Burgess misses England and wants to come home and the person he reaches to for help is Troy, embroiling him in a murder and bringing him under suspicion of being another in the cluster of traitors. Can Troy clear himself and find the real murderer?

Friends and Traitors is John Lawton’s eleventh novel and his eighth featuring Inspector Troy. As the series progresses, each book tosses away more and more of the conventions of genre fiction. If this book were a singleton – not part of a series – it would be classified as literary fiction examining the role of identity, family, patriotism, and honor in Cold War England. The fact of being a spy is central to Burgess’ identity and his role in the story, but the particulars of his espionage are immaterial. The murders come very late and are not the purpose of the story which is really about Troy figuring out more about himself and what he values.

Lawton has incorporated real historical figures in his books in the past, though never quite so completely as he has with Guy Burgess, the spy. He does it very well and Burgess’ charm and pitiable state come through along with his vulgarity, making it easy to understand how Troy could enjoy him and pity him while also slightly disliking him all at the same time.

I have loved this series since its inception. Troy is a complicated character, compromised by his affection for others, by love and loyalty that is personal rather than patriotic. He does not just sail close to the wind, he risks being blown off course. I enjoy this series and would love to see them in a Masterpiece Mystery series though it’s possible Troy with his empathy for friends and traitors like Guy Burgess is too complicated for television.

I received an advance e-galley of Friends and Traitors from Atlantic Grove through NetGalley

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