John Lawton’s “Friends and Traitors” (Atlantic Monthly, 352 pp., $26) is the latest in his splendid Inspector Frederick Troy series, an artful blend of two ever-popular subjects: espionage and British police work.
The series’ time frame, covering WWII and the Cold War, prominently features such real-life figures as Churchill and Khrushchev.
True to form, “Friends and Traitors” revolves around Guy Burgess, the double agent who famously defected to the Russians in 1951.
Burgess was charismatic and charming, but also an exasperating alcoholic who tried the patience of even his closest friends.
Over decades his path crosses occasionally with that of Troy, who has always been a richly drawn and remarkably complex figure.
Their fraught relationship culminates when Burgess approaches Troy in an unsuccessful (and real-life) bid to return to England. It’s an extraordinary story — both in history and Lawton’s bold re-imagining. It’s been told many times before, in both fiction and non-fiction, but Lawton has a fresh approach, shaping “Friends and Traitors” as more of a character study than a standard-issue thriller.
“After the Fire” (Vintage, 416 pp., $16.95 paperback original) is the final book by Henning Mankell, who, before his death in 2015, wrote superior Swedish thrillers long before the wildly “Girl Who…” series made Nordic crime-lit cool.
In Marlaine Delargy’s crisp translation, Mankell (best known for his books about detective Kurt Wallander) writes of Fredrik Welin, an elderly surgeon who has retired to a lonely island.
When Welin’s house burns down, memories associated with it come flooding back, and when the fire is confirmed as arson several people become suspects, including the tight community of island residents. Ultimately, the book is a stunning meditation on loneliness, memory, and emotional ties.
In local news: Martin Limón’s “The Nine-Tailed Fox” (Soho, 336 pp., $26) extends his absorbing series about Sueño and Bascom, Army policemen in 1970s Korea, as they hunt for three GIs who may have been kidnapped.
T.W. Emory’s “Crazy Rhythm” (Coffeetown, 246 pp., $15.95 paperback original) is a robust evocation of 1950s Ballard — back when it was a working-class neighborhood, not a hotbed of hipsters. Hard-boiled private eye Gunnar Nilson investigates, among other cases, the story of a murdered gambler.
And Maia Chance’s “Gin and Panic” (Minotaur, 304 pp., $25.99) is the latest of her lighter-than-air romps about Lola Woodby, a Prohibition-era ex-socialite turned private eye who is hired to find, of all things, a mounted rhino head —an assignment that soon turns deadly.