Blue Rondo by John Lawton

Blue Rondo - book cover

rondo: a repeated theme, interspersed with episodic variations.

Blue Rondo A La Turk : Dave Brubeck

Read a Short Extract


About 'Blue Rondo', Freddie Troy and the story

...from the desk of The Grumpy Old Bookman

'John Lawton's Blue Rondo is about as good a book as you could sensibly hope to find. It is intelligent, literate, gripping, and sheds some interesting light on past events. Among its other virtues, it is a bloody good detective story.'

Michael Allen - aka GOB

Thoughts from the author...

Who is Freddie Troy?
'Objectively, Freddie is the youngest son of a wealthy family of Russian exiles—refugees from the failed revolution of 1905 not the big one—and the recipient of a privileged English upper class upbringing.  He's an English gent, who isn't really an English gent.  There's a tradition of upper class coppers: Peter Wimsey, Roderick Alleyn, Albert Campion.  Following that tradition has certain advantages if you're writing about a society (say the 1940s) in which a visiting detective would likely as not be shown to the tradesman's entrance.

Troy's accent and name open doors. Less objectively. Well, the bastard grew on me.  I think I invented an innocent, certainly a sexual innocent, and saw his morals erode in front of me as I wrote.  

He's the youngest son of a large family, stranded at the end, the child of his father's old age, who is stuck at home and made privy to the old man's wisdom.  It's a corrupting process.  And of course, he's constantly defining himself against an elder brother who is righteous and self-righteous.  

He's crap at relationships.  Useless with women.  (The bloggers who keep telling me he's a lothario either haven't lived or haven't read attentively enough.)  Women use him like Kleenex.  He's a victim, exploited by his lovers, often to the point where his life is in peril.'

from Q&A at

Extract from 'Blue Rondo'

Chapter 9:

When Troy awoke his lover was sitting at his bedside, reading. He couldn’t see the book’s title. It and its jacket were a blur. So was her face, but if he couldn’t recognise Foxx by the shape of her legs after three years . . . He watched her turn two pages before she looked up and saw he had woken.
   Anxiety written on her face. She turned in the chair. Eyes searching for a doctor. A nurse.
   ‘It’s alright,’ Troy said softly. ‘I can see, I can hear and I think I can think.’
   She laid the book face down on the bed and took his right hand in both of hers, the meniscant bubble of tears forming in the corner of her eyes. ‘Do you know what happened?’
   ‘Car bomb,’ he said, just as quietly. ‘Somebody killed John Brocklehurst. I got in the way.’
   The bubble burst. Tears coursing down her cheeks. Mascara straining.
   ‘He is dead, isn’t he?’
   Foxx nodded. ‘Could have been you,’ she said at long last, her voice buried deep in her chest.
   A white-coated doctor appeared behind her, whispered to her. She let go of Troy’s hand. Walked away with half a dozen glances over her shoulder.
   The doctor talked and touched at the same time. Flicked on a narrow-beam torch and plucked at Troy’s eyelids with her thumb as she spoke. Troy vanished in a tunnel of blinding white light.
   ‘So, Mr Troy, you can hear and you can see. You know, that was quite a blow you took to the head. Tell me, do you know where you are?’
   Troy didn’t.
   ‘Charing Cross Hospital,’ the doctor said, perching on the edge of Troy’s bed.
   Again? That figured. He and Brock had been only yards from it when the car went up.
   ‘In fact, you almost made it here unassisted. The blast rolled you right to the doorway. All we had to do was carry you in on a stretcher.’
   ‘Carried in,’ Troy said. ‘But I’ll walk out?’
   ‘Well, you broke nothing, and that’s a minor miracle in itself. A few grazes and a lump the size of a tennis ball on your head. But that’s what concerns me.’
   She held up a hand. ‘How many fingers?’
   ‘It’s alright,’ Troy said. ‘I’m not going to pretend. I’m seeing two of everything, perhaps three.’
   ‘Then we’ll keep you in for a while. Absolutely standard with head injuries – but I doubt it’ll be long. No bloodclots on the brain, no hairline fractures. Your pulse and blood pressure are quite normal. Now, you must be feeling tired. Comas are like that. You sleep an age and wake up exhausted.
   ‘Coma,’ said Troy, rolling the word around as though trying to divine a hidden meaning. ‘How long?’
   ‘Two and a half days. It’s Monday morning.’
   She told Troy that she would send Foxx back to him. Troy closed his eyes. She was right. He was knackered. He thought he would spare himself the pain of his overhead light. Why couldn’t they put him in a dark room? He had no idea or intention to sleep, but he did. Red flames lapped around him. His ears rang with a cacophony of bells. His eyes flashed open. An act of will. The only sure-fire way to stop a dream. To wake. The figure at his bedside was not Foxx. It was a man. Troy willed resolution, Wildeve – Jack Wildeve.
   ‘Good,’ Jack said. ‘I was just about to give up and let you sleep.'
   ‘I was asleep?’
   ‘Yes. You’ve slept about an hour, I should think. I sneaked in between that rather delicious doctor you’ve got and your Miss Foxx. She’s getting a cup of tea. Strictly one at a time today.’
   An hour? Good God – it had felt like a second anatomised. Time’s merest measurable fragment.
   ‘Is there anything you can tell me?’
   ‘I doubt it. Brock . . . got into his car . . . tried to stop him . . . couldn’t.’
   ‘He was drunk. Didn’t give a damn. I walked off. The car blew up. It . . . sounded like it went up with the ignition . . . can’t be sure.’
   ‘Sounds about right to me,’ Jack said. ‘Forensic say it was done with a length of cable running from the distributer under the car to a spark plug dangling in the neck of the tank. Very crude, but effective. As soon as Brock turned the key the petrol vapour would have exploded. The tank, the feed line and the engine would have followed in an almost instant reaction.’
   Not instant enough. Troy could hear in the mind’s ear the struggle of the starter motor, then the bangs of the explosion, three at least before he had fallen to Earth.
    ‘I knew he was dead. As soon as I heard . . . no . . . felt the bang.’
   For a second or two as he looked at Jack, Jack swam into clear focus and Troy could read his face plainly.
   ‘Tell me, ‘ he said. ‘Tell me the truth.
    Jack would not now meet his gaze, but to Troy he had already dissolved into Jacks. One of them drew a sharp breath and said, ‘Brock wasn’t killed outright. He suffered almost ninety per cent burns. Damn Terylene suit went up like a roman candle, melted on him. Melted him. There was nothing left of his face but his eyes. But they got him out alive. Tried to treat his burns. Pumped him full of morphine to numb the pain. He had the constitution of an ox. Kept regaining consciousness. Kept asking after you. All the pain he was in and he kept asking for you. He died last night. About three in the morning. It really couldn’t come soon enough. There never was a chance he could live with that sort of damage.’
   Troy’s mind clicked on, clicked back. His brother. The end of the war. A celebration party at their father’s old house in Hampstead for Rod’s first election win. His old RAF mates turning up. Two faceless men. The angles and arches of noses and eyebrows dissolved into blobs and curves. The shiny skin of plastic surgery. The gung-ho optimism of one, the scarcely containable rage of the other. Brock would have been like that. Angry. Cursing God and Man and Fate.

Chapter 10:
   The next time Troy awoke it was with the sense that time had slipped. There was a big man, no a fat man – this man was definitely fat – seated next to the bed leafing through the pages of the Daily Mail. He was wearing an LCC Heavy Rescue blouse, he was bald and he was humming ‘April in Paris’ softly to himself. Troy strained to read the front page of the paper and found he could not decipher the headline, let alone the date. But he saw the leather elbow patches and cuffs on the Fat Man’s outfit, like the piped edging of a leather suitcase, the visible tears of wear, of fifteen years’ digging spuds and shovelling pig muck, and time regained its keel. It wasn’t 1944 at all . . . It was whenever it was . . . ages later.
   ‘Been here long?’ he said.
   ‘Seems like an age, cock, but . . . looking at me watch . . .’ He deftly yanked a pocket watch from a breast pocket and flipped the case. ‘. . . I’d say about an hour and a bit. I’m supposed to phone young Jack when you come round again, and he’s supposed to call your guv’ner. That Onions bloke.'
   ‘And Foxx?’
   ‘My . . . er. . .’
   ‘You mean yer totty?’
   Troy was quite sure he didn’t. ‘I mean Miss Foxx, Shirley Foxx.’
   ‘Sent her back to your place to get some kip. She’s taken this badly, if you ask me. Needed to get her ‘ead down. After all, I bang on the door she can be here in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.’
   The Fat Man passed the paper to Troy and went to the payphone in the corridor. Troy let the paper slip. Print was a maelstrom to him. It spun and it eddied and it went down a big plughole.
   ‘He’ll be right over,’ the Fat Man reported back.
   ‘Fine,’ Troy said without feeling. ‘While he’s here would you mind going round to the house and asking Foxx if she’d come over? I’m sure she was here a while ago, but . . .’
   ‘But what, old cock?’
   ‘But I can’t remember when?’
   ‘She’s been here every day.’
   ‘And today is?’
   He’d slept another thirty-six hours or more. He felt as though sleep was a runaway train. Give in to it for so much as a second and you woke to find the world had rolled on without you . . . station after station . . . oh Mr Porter . . .
   ‘Brock’s funeral?’
   ‘Friday, but don’t bank on being there.’

Onions looked grim. As though all the sleep Troy had had was stolen from him. He had five o’clock shadow – but for all Troy knew it was five o’clock – his blue striped suit was crumpled and the bags under his eyes were as big as pheasant’s eggs. He looked less like the Commissioner of the Met than the hard-working, both-ends-burning copper he’d been until promotion fell on him, like reward and punishment in a single hammer-blow.
   ‘I’d’ve been over sooner . . .‘ he began.
   ‘Forget it, ‘ Troy said. ‘I’ve not been in a state to receive you. I would not have known you were here. Do we have any leads?’
   Onions sighed. ‘We’ve nowt. But that’s not why I’m here.’
   ‘You pulled Alf Marx’s mob, though?’
   ‘We pulled everyone who’s ever met him, but we’ve got nowt. And, like I said, that’s not why I’m here.’
   ‘You pulled Bernie Champion?’
   Champion was King Alf’s long standing number two – the right arm, the heir apparent.
   ‘Aye and I sucked on half a dozen eggs while I did it. Of course I pulled the bugger. He turned up with so many briefs we had to set out more chairs. And, needless to say, he’s got an alibi you could wallop with a Tiger tank. Arrogant gobshite. Blowin’ up a copper on the streets of London and defying us to do a damn about it. He’s just taking the piss, isn’t he?’
   ‘He’d hardly have done the job personally, would he?’
   ‘No. But, like I keep tryin’ to tell you, that’s not why I’m here.’
   Onions looked around. Pulled a packet of Woodbines from his jacket pocket. ‘D’ye reckon they let you smoke in here?’
   Troy smelled a rat, saw it, touched it. ‘No I’m sure they don’t. Why not just spit it out Stan?’
   Onions looked wistfully at his fags, shoved them back and bit on the bullet. ‘Freddie have you thought about retiring?’
   It was pretty close to the last thing Troy had expected. At the same time it was vaguely familiar as though he could hear another unidentifiable voice asking the same question. ‘Stan . . . I’m forty . . .’

Copyright © John Lawton, 2005