Lagercrantz, heir to Stieg Larsson and author of the latest Lisbeth Sander installment, The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2015), turns to a mystery of another sort.
Wilmslow, near Manchester, is a gloomy sort of northern place, about right for a suicide. (Just ask Ian Curtis.) That’s the opening gambit of Lagercrantz’s long, pensive meditation on the life and death of the mathematician Alan Turing, who famously did himself in with a cyanide-laced apple. Apple in the garden, Fall of Man: the obvious allusion would have worked better, perhaps, if Turing himself had seen any particularly grand lesson in death other than escape from some particularly ill treatment, for he was chemically castrated as punishment for being homosexual in a Britain that would later repent that terrible injustice to a man who, after all, had helped bring down Nazi Germany. Lagercrantz adds further psychological dimension to the story by introducing DC Leonard Corell, a dour sort who becomes gloomier on contemplating the corpse. As he questions why Turing should have killed himself, he implicates an unhappy family life, disbelieving parents, sniffy associates (“Alan found it hard to blend in. He couldn’t play along, to be blunt”), and intelligence operatives who, now that the enemy has shifted from Germany to Russia, still have a stake in keeping Turing’s secrets secret. The story and its possibilities (was Turing murdered? were his assignations with Soviet spies?) beg for the taut handling of a John le Carré, Alan Furst, or Graham Greene, but Lagercrantz lets things drift on a bit too long and a bit too talkily to keep the necessary tension. Better, though, is his quietly suggestive depiction of how the investigation affects the investigator; says one colleague to Corell, “This whole Alan Turing business seems to have become something very personal for you,” to which the reader will sagely nod, ah, if you only knew….
A bookend of sorts to Bruce Duffy’s fine novel The World as I Found It (1987); full of psychological insight though not much action.