David Lagercrantz has recently become known as the writer who will be continuing Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series. His book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, will be published at the end of August and, I’m sure, a review will appear on this blog in due course. Meanwhile MacLehose have just published a translation of one of Lagercrantz’s earlier books Fall of Man in Wilmslow. I pushed it to the top of my reading list partly because of the focus on the death and life of Alan Turing but also because it’s set in Wilmslow, a Manchester suburb near where I grew up. I was interested to see how a Swedish writer would tackle the setting in particular. Wilmslow has distinctive identity that I think makes it hard capture in a book. And, on balance, I think he did a pretty good job.
On the 8th of June 1954, mathematician Alan Turing is found dead in his Wilmslow home having eaten an apple dipped in potassium cyanide. Turing is a convicted homosexual who has been forced to take the female hormone oestrogen as a possible ‘cure’. The coroner has no problem delivering a verdict of suicide but the policeman investigating the case, DC Leonard Corell becomes fascinated by his work and the links to the intelligence services. But as he studies Turing’s life he is increasingly under pressure by his superiors to close the investigation and concentrate on hunting out other ‘deviants’ in the Manchester area.
The life of Alan Turing is fairly well-known and he holds a particular affection amongst the people of Manchester despite the fact that it was that city that treated him so shabbily. Turing’s life, although forming a pivotal position in the narrative, nevertheless doesn’t dominate the plot. It was good to read about Turing’s end rather than his war work. It’s desperately sad and his naivety seems to have contributed to part of his downfall. The sheer grimness of suicide by poisoning is particularly well described. The focus of the plot is on Corell’s increasing obsession with Turing. His sexual identity is confused and his Marlborough and Cambridge education out of place in a suburban police force.
What I was most prepared to dislike was the Wilmslow setting, an area I know very well. It’s archetypal suburbia with a northern slant. But I thought he captured it pretty well. The road names were accurate, descriptions of the houses well done and I got the feel of an area. It’s an example that it’s a good idea to put your prejudices aside when you pick up a book. The plot is fairly slow-moving. It’s a book to be enjoyed at leisure and my main gripe would be the ending seemed a bit lame. But overall I though Lagercrantz an impressive writer.
Thanks to MacLehose for my review copy. The translation is by George Goulding.