Review: David Lagercrantz – Fall of Man in Wilmslow

Image.ashxDavid 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.

Review: Henning Mankell – An Event in Autumn

An Event in AutumnFans of Henning Mankell’s Wallander books will know that the series has come to an end. Wallander, for reasons that were narrated in The Troubled Man, will investigate no more cases. However, it appears we have one last story. According to the book’s afterword, An Event in Autumn was originally written for a Dutch publisher to give away to purchasers of their crime novels. It’s not really a novella, more a longish short story but it is, nevertheless, very nice to revisit Wallander’s world.

The now ageing Wallander has always dreamt of owning a house in the countryside around Ystad. His colleague, Martinsson, tells him about a dilapidated house that he has inherited and which Wallander might want to visit with a view to purchasing. However, while inspecting the garden, Wallander discovers a skeletal hand and the police dig soon reveals the presence of two bodies. All the evidence suggests that the victims have been in the ground for a long time, so Wallander is forced to go back decades in time to discover the origins of the tragedy.

While reading An Event in AutumnI couldn’t help thinking that it would have made an excellent full length novel. The story reminded me a little of Colin Dexter’s Morse book, The Wench is Dead It was not only the historic aspect to the narrative but also the part played by Wallander. He’s always been a character who is fails to take his own health seriously. But in this short tale, there’s a foreshadowing of the trouble that comes in the final book.

There’s a decent plot and it’s a shame it wasn’t given the opportunity to open out in Mankell’s trademark way. There could have been plenty of twists and turns before we reached the final conclusion but the length of the story didn’t allow this. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable both for the glimpses into fifties Swedish attitudes and also for the descriptions of the wonderful Scanian countryside that we got when Wallander visited his father in earlier books.

Wallander fans will have already read the story, I’m sure. There’s an interesting essay at the back of the book by Mankell which confirms that this is it. There are no more Wallander tales and we really have reached the end.

Thanks to Harvill Secker for my review copy. The translation was by Laurie Thompson.