The Man from Beijing, by Henning Mankell

by Peter

The Man from Beijing is a large-scale, global thriller. It describes and links events across time and space. A mass murder in Sweden in 2006. Chinese railroad workers in America in the 1860’s. Chinese neo-colonialism in Africa. It is all here. And the dots The Man from Beijing, by Henning Mankellare very properly connected in Mankell’s grandiose plot.

Henning Mankell, the author of the internationally renowned crime fiction series about Detective Kurt Wallander, recently featured on TV both in England and in the US in a BBC television series starring Kenneth Branagh as Wallander, is an exceptional writer. He has sold more than 30 million books in 39 languages. In this book, he is seemingly guided by an analysis of the future world role of the Chinese.

This is an electrifying stand-alone thriller that takes off into a sweeping international drama. It starts in January 2006. In the Swedish hamlet of Hesjövallen. First a savagely murdered man is found lying in the snow. As they begin their investigation the police notice that the village seems eerily quiet and deserted. Going from house to house, looking for witnesses, they uncover a crime unprecedented in Swedish history. Nineteen people have been massacred. In Sweden!

The only clues are a red ribbon and an old, nineteenth-century diary found at the scene. Judge Birgitta Roslin has particular reason to be shocked: her grandparents, the Andréns, are among the victims. The police insist that only a lunatic could have committed the murders.

But when Birgitta discovers the diary of another Andrén—a gang master on the American transcontinental railway in the nineteenth century—that describes the cruel treatment of Chinese slave-workers, she is determined to uncover what she suspects is a more complicated truth.

The investigation leads to modern-day Beijing and its highest echelons of power, to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. But the narrative also takes us back 150 years, into a history that will ensnare Birgitta as she draws ever closer to solving the Hesjövallen murders. Birgitta uncovers an international web of corruption and a story of vengeance that stretches back over a hundred years, linking China and the USA of the 1860s with modern-day Beijing, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and coming to a shocking climax in London’s Chinatown.

The Man from Beijing is masterfully written. Mankell skillfully links together events and people into a coherent tale – a tale of something which could possibly have happened. And the book is very suspenseful and mostly moves fast. Here and there, however, Mankell breaks the pace a little because he has something he wants to tell. Even so, The Man from Beijing shows Henning Mankell at the height of his powers, handling a broad historical canvas and pressing international issues with his exceptional gifts for insight and chilling suspense.

I loved reading the book (in Swedish). I have not seen the translated version yet, so I don’t know anything about the quality of it in this case. In Swedish, the language was excellent, and it was clear that this was a tale Mankell was happy to tell. The images and symbolism are great and intelligent. There is a lot of tension and nerve in the book, and it is very exciting to read. To my mind, this is one of the best Mankell books of the last decade.

The Man from Beijing is a perceptive political thriller and a compelling detective story.

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