Sunday, January 10, 2010

Verbal champagne and the other kind, too

I wrote yesterday about verbal champagne in the prologue to John Lawton's A Little White Death. I had no idea at the time that the first chapter proper would offer the real stuff, too. Here are the protagonist, Frederick Troy, and his brother Roderick after the latter has fled their game of Monopoly in disgust:
"`What have you found?' Troy asked.

"Rod wiped the label with his sleeve.

"`The paper's a bit perished, but it says 1928 and I'd lay odds of ten to one it's Veuve Clicquot.'

"`Does champagne keep that long?'

"`Haven't the foggiest. But there's only one way to find out.'"

"Pure," as loyal reader Loren Eaton likes to say, "gold."

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

Labels: , ,

18 Comments:

Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Now that book cover is interesting as it is based on a famous photo of Christine Keeler one of the stars of the Profumo scandal. You realise you are getting old when events you lived through come back as historical crime fiction.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Gavin said...

Okay Peter. I'm adding Lawton to my TBR list.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Timothy Hallinan said...

I love Lawton, especially the way, in so many of the books, the mystery is just one plot thread tucked away in the much broader fabric of the book, which brings to life British life, often in World War Two. Great stuff.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the information on the photograph, Uriah. That's the cover of the edition I'm reading, and I knew it looked familiar. I'd always thought of Christine Keeler as the star of the Profumo scandal and not just one of the stars.

Yes, that Profumo scandal ought to be fresh in your memory. You might have been just the right age to have slavered after the salacious details, if one slavered after salacious details in 1960s England.

(Talking of John Lawton, someone was telling me recently that his -- my friend's, not John Lawton's -- mother remembers the blitz of London clearly.)

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gavin, I'll join you in filling my TBR pile with Lawton. This is just the second of his six Troy novels that I'll have read, and I think they can be enjoyed as slices of social history, as crime stories, as delightful bits of writing fill of clever references to Wodehouse and others. I flatter myself that I learn something about the England of whatever era Lawton is writing about, and I have fun doing so. He might make useful collateral reading for a course in twentieth-century English history.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Timothy, maybe the Troy novels ought to be more than collateral reading. They could well be useful starting points for a course on English history from the 1938 on.

I have mused from time to time about problems inherent in writing historical crime fiction, and probably any kind of historical fiction. I know of no one who has solved those problems better and more gracefully than Lawton has.

(Another historical crime novel that I liked was Ariana Frankin's "Mistress of the Art of Death." Ariana Franklin's real name is Diana Norman, and John Lawton thanks a Diana Norman in the acknowledgments to "A Little White Death.")

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

That exchange is gold. And I would be happy to sample the integrity of that Veuve Clicquot.

A Little White Death sounds intriguing, but I like to start series at the beginning. Is Black Out in the same category?

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, here re the books in order of publication:

1. Black Out (1995)
2. Old Flames (1996)
3. A Little White Death (1998)
4. Riptide (2001)
aka Bluffing Mr. Churchill
5. Blue Rondo (2005)
aka Flesh Wounds
6. Second Violin (2007)

That's not the historical order, however. Second Violin, for example, the most recently published of the series, is set in the years leading up to the Second World War, Black Out during the Blitz, Old Flames in 1956, and A Little White Death in the early '60s, but then Rip Tide in 1941 and Blue Rondo in the 1950s.

The only one I'd before this was the sixth in order of publication and the first in historical order. A Little White Death is third in order of publication, sixth in historical order, and second in my own reading order. In short, I have no advice to offer -- yet -- about the order in which you should read the books.

January 10, 2010  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I am reading them in chronological order:
Second Violin
Riptide
Blackout
Old Flames

Next one up is Blue Rondo. All are brilliant with possibly Riptide being a little weaker than the other three. I have reviewed the first three, but not Old Flames yet, which I am saving for the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme which has reached M.

Peter, Ariana Franklin is Diana Norman and was born in Devon. She is married to film critic Barry Norman, and you will realise why I believe in strange coincidences if I tell you I am Norman Barry.

January 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wanted to read the books in chronological order, but I grabbed A Little White Death when I found it. I'll try to revert to chronological order for the rest of the series.

I do notice similarities between A Little White Death and Second Violin, notably in the slow buildup to the crime. Lawton is quite the man for setting the historical and human scene.

I knew Ariana Franklin was Diana Norman, though I'm not certain that the Diana Norman whom Lawton acknowledges is Ariana Franklin. I'd guess that she is, and I'd guess that you got your name because you are the unacknowledged offspring of some author or fictional character.

Numerous passages in A Little White Death as well as the title of Blue Rondo make me suspect Lawton has a strong layman's interest in jazz. I mean "layman's" as a compliment. He makes a real effort to describe the music such that a non-musician can feel and understand its effect.

January 11, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, this is my favorite Troy novel to date. So glad you and other readers are enjoying it, too. It was your posts on “Second Violin” that led me to begin reading the series. I think new-to-Lawton readers will find him quite exceptional, too, partly because of the social history component that is essential to the stories, partly because of the superb writing. Putting one down after a session, I find myself thinking about it for a quite a while afterward. Many books I read I forget about soon after reading them. Not with Lawton. So many crime fiction novels I read, including the current one which will remain nameless, dwell overmuch on the angst, personal demons, personal problems, etc. of the main protagonist. What a pleasure it is to read Lawton who fully develops _all_ his characters while placing them within the broader context of the novels’ time period.

I'm usually quite a stickler for reading books in series chronological order but with Lawton, reading them in order of publication actually seems to work better as “revelations” made in subsequently-written novels make more sense, have more impact when Lawton fleshes them out. So I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading the Troys in order of publication.

The C Keeler photograph that Uriah Robinson refers to was also adapted for the poster of the 1989 film "Scandal," based on the Profumo affair with Joanne Whalley as Keeler.

January 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, if I remember the line of descent right, I first read Lawton thanks to Uriah "Crime Scraps" Robinson, and he may have started thanks to Rhian "It's a crime ... or a mystery" Davies.

Lawton gives us the angst, but he gives us the context, too, and he usually does this without seeming too much like a history lecturer.

And here is that photograph of Christine Keeler, from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

January 11, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Popular music of the period, including jazz, is an essential thread in several of the Troys. If you have not already finished "A Little White Death," you will see how Lawton developed the narrative with a seminal album of the period in mind. Reference to this record in the story produced such a visceral sense of déjà vu for me that I had to buy the CD of same album as the vinyl original is a much-played scratchy mess.

Music is never just background music for Lawton and that's just one of the many pleasures of reading his carefully crafted and beautifully written novels.

January 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've just spent four days with friends, which has cut into my reading time, but I have read enough to find references to John Coltrane, Chet Baker and Ella Fitzgerald, among others. My favorite is Lawton's astute comparison of Art Tatum's piano style and Thelonious Monk's:

"The piano was, he had read, three instruments in one -- melodic, harmonic, percussive. A good pianist could exploit all three. Art Tatum, and no one matched Tatum in Troy's estimate, could exploit them all at the same time; `A Foggy Day in London Town' spun under his fingers like a Catherine wheel. But then Tatum had six hands, which was what Troy had thought the first time he had heard him. Monk had only two, but where they would wander next was anybody's guess."

January 11, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I got a kick out of seeing Art Tatum mentioned in this Troy as he was frequently referenced in an authoritative way (or so it seemed to me) by Black Mask alumnus George Harmon Coxe in his crime fiction novels (mid-1930s - early 70s). Lawton and Coxe describe Tatum's playing somewhat similarly.

January 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That piques my interest in George Harmon Coxe. The only Art Tatum number that comes immediately to mind is "Willow Weep for Me." He does a number of things at the same time on that song, too.

January 11, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's that Veuve Clicquot again!

Cara

January 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, lots of noses and palates being tickled in crime-fiction land these days. I had never known much about the good widow and her favorite tipple before your post some time back.

I'm no champagne expert, but I have been to Rheims and been thrown into a near-hallucinogenic stupor gazing at the rose window of the cathedral. I think that would have happened even without the champagne, though.

January 19, 2010  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home