Bluffing Mr. Churchill

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

John Lawton’s third historical thriller featuring Detective Sergeant Frederick Troy finds his hero caught up in political and romantic entanglements in 1941. Wolfgang Stahl, an Austrian aide to Reinhard Heydrich, head of Adolf Hitler’s SS, escapes from Germany just before he can be arresting for spying for the Americans. Stahl remains undercover in London while two killers stalk him. The Americans and British want to protect and debrief him, setting Chief Inspector Walter Stilton and U.S. Army Captain Calvin Cormack, the son of a U.S. senator, on his trail.

Troy remains mostly on the periphery of the case until the final chapters when he and his father, a prominent Russian emigre and journalist, play important roles. It turns out that Stahl knows the details of the coming German invasion of Russia. Troy’s involvement in the search for Stahl becomes complicated by Cormack’s affair with Troy’s longtime girlfriend, Kitty Stilton, also a police sergeant and Walter’s daughter.

Bluffing Mr. Churchill, the significance of whose title does not become clear until the end, succeeds as a rousing entertainment on several levels. Lawton provides a very detailed view of daily life in London during wartime and explains the political machinations for getting America into the war without overwhelming the reader with extraneous information, as so many espionage writers do. The characters are well drawn, especially the Stiltons. The lusty, aggressively cockney Kitty is much more original and credible than the female creations of writers such as Len Deighton and Ken Follett. The appearance of real-life figures, such as Lord Beaverbrook, H. G. Wells, and Winston Churchill, adds spice to an already flavorful tale.