Fall of Man in Wilmslow by David Lagercrantz
This is a fascinating and somewhat complex work. The first layer relates to the fact that the book was written in Swedish and later translated to English. The author is from a very cultured intellectual background though his politics are decidedly of the left. There were times when I wondered as to the quality of the translation but after some time, I began to believe that it was faithful to a somewhat dense text that was thoughtful but initially somewhat slow. The story did, however, develop and accelerate to an interesting conclusion.
In essence, Lagencrantz has taken the incident of Alan Turing’s suicide and its investigation as a platform to probe the Turing story and his philosophical/Mathematical contributions in an easily understandable manner whilst building an entirely fictional story around the character of the policeman set to carry out that investigation. Naturally, there are elements in the policeman story that draw out echoes of the Turing story as both present as somewhat oddly different and very introspective characters. The garnish for the interactions between the two story lines relates to the vague background characters from the security services who maintain an interest in the Turing story and in anyone interested in that story. This interest comes to border on the unhealthiest kind of paranoia. Lagercrantz’ political views are on show here.
Despite some occasional reservations, I think that this rather odd blend worked for me while I particularly enjoyed the pillorying of those who were determined to suppress Turing out of a mixed sense of misdirected concern for national security and a plain fear, hatred and loathing of homosexuals. The odour of McCarthyism remains with us today in a world of Wikileaks and metadata. One can only wonder what Turing would have thought about it!
King of the Road by Nigel Bartlett
Sydney gay man lives a reasonably contented existence – is out to family and friends. Man has 11 year-old nephew to visits regularly and sleeps over. Boy goes missing while staying over with uncle. A variety of events raise doubts about the gay man’s possibility as a pedophile. Man makes some apparently hasty and damaging decisions. Man is on the run and has to do detecting for himself to save boy and himself. Will he succeed?
That is the plot in a nutshell. Is it well-written? Yes, quite absorbing at times with good action and lots of leads and assorted herrings. Is the plotting good? Yes, 80% good, but with some motivations and behaviours suspect.
Is it good value for a brief (300 pages) read? Yes, though not always for the most obvious reasons. We live in a world where, while there is increasing acceptance of sexual diversity and what comes as a corollary of that change, there is also quite severe panic over anything associated with what can variously be described as pedophilia, paedophilia or ephebophilia. I found the portrayal of the reactions of the people surrounding David, including officialdom, to be very accurate and touched on a raw nerve. While it is true that the majority of offensive behaviours come from someone close to the victim (and that includes family) it is clear that the finger of suspicion often points most frequently in a direction dictated by prejudice. I defy anyone who has been associated either with education, sporting club activities, child care, or even an innocent family gathering, not to have considered this possibility and to have monitored or reconfigured their behaviour as a consequence. Perhaps such caution is a good thing but it is also quite frightening given the known track record for proven false accusations.
The other aspect of this novel that is up-to-date and immediate is the regular use of smart phones, tablets, computers and social media, especially Facebook. I am familiar with most that was mentioned but thought that readers unfamiliar would not be overly troubled. I am Facebook abstainer but know enough to be aware of how it was being used in this case and I think the same thing could be said for other such virgins. These kinds of inclusions are here to stay. I don’t see how it could be left out of a storyline such as this, so it is incumbent on abstainers and virgins to make the effort to at least get an understanding of what is involved otherwise miss out on a rattling good read.
This is Sydney based author Nigel Bartlett’s first novel and the autobiographical details indicate he has worked hard to produce this offering. I look forward to more from his pen.