Lawton's book is much more conventional. Although Troy does not appear till the second half, Méret makes a good stand-in, giving us an innocent but intelligent look at a Vienna that "loved a uniform as much as a waltz." And if the jump in time jars a bit, the overlapping characters soon pull the parts together, especially as we learn how their various tragedies have changed them.

A Lily of the Field is not flawless. With uncharacteristic ham-handedness, the author presages Sigmund Freud's fatal oral cancer by having Méret notice him "wincing . . . as though his jaw ached or some such," when a real observer would more likely have thought toothache. But such stumbles are rare, and whereas le Carré does a credible job of re-creating the claustrophobia of closed rooms, Lawton deftly lays out Europe as it changed, with all of its intimate costs exposed.

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