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[272] The Man From Beijing – Henning Mankell

” But she was convinced: this couldn’t be the handiwork of a lunatic. It was too well organized, too cold-blooded, to have been carried out by anyone but a totally calm and cool killer. Possibly, she noted in the margin, one should ask if the man had been in the place before. It was pitch dark, but he must have had a powerful flashlight. Several of the doors were locked. He must have known exactly who lived where, and probably also had keys. ” [20; 183]

A massacre in the remote Swedish hamlet of Hesjövallen during mid-winter 2006 propels this complex thriller. Nineteen people, all of whom elderly but one, a visiting 12 year old boy, that belong to three families, were found dead in several houses along with their pets. All the victims had been subjected to frenzied violence.

She had remembered rightly. This hamlet that had been struck down by unannounced evil was not just any old place. It was the village in which her mother had grown up. [5; 44]

Judge Birgitta Roslin comes across diaries from the crime scene by Jan Andrén, an immigrant ancestor of hers. The diaries uncovered happenings when Andrén was a foreman on the building of the transcontinental railroad in the United States in the 19th century. Further research reveals the journey of a railroad worker who was kidnapped in China and shipped to America in 1863. The evidence, especially the racist and misanthropic jottings about Chinese and black workers, thus corroborates the hypothesis that motive for the crime is rooted in the past.

The captain seizes some of the leading troublemakers, kills them, and ties them to other Chinese who are still alive, two at a time. Then they are forced to lie on deck, one of each pair slowly starving to death, the other decomposing. [20; 183]

The Man From Beijing is a globe-trotting thriller as snippets of evidence support that the perpetrator is a foreigner, out of a fierce desire to revenge. A small strand of ribbon found near the crime scene traces the target suspect to China, where corruption at the highest levels of the inner circle might play a role in master-minding the murders. The opening stunner in which murders are discovered trickles into a slower pace, as the book veers off to subject of Chinese and African politics. That China is trying to colonize parts of Zimbabwe and Mozambique becomes a long and rather disruptive diversion from the main story. Mankell does capture the modern struggle of new China, which, in readying to join the rank of world’s superpower, strives to prove that it is possible to combine economic development and capitalism to a state that is not democratic. The ending, though very gripping, might have left some threads untied. Moments of the book call for holding one’s breath.

363 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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13 Responses

  1. You had me at the ‘Swedish hamlet’…you almost lost me at the ‘Chinese and African politics’.
    Sounds interesting, but maybe not something i will run right out and get my hands on.

  2. Just reading your synopsis of the book, I am reminded of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It also had some odd digressions and similar violence, so maybe this is something Swedish thrillers enjoy doing? I didn’t particularly care for that book, however, so I’m not sure this would be a great fit for me either.

    • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stirred up such a huge fuss here in Hong Kong as well. This book and it’s sequel (I heard there will be a third one to complete the trilogy) are on the very displays when I enter the bookstores here. I have another Henning Mankell here with me, faceless Killers that I might read on the plane.

  3. Sounds pretty awesome. I have a Mankell book waiting for me to read….Faceless Killers.

  4. [...] [272] The Man From Beijing – Henning Mankell [...]

  5. It’s hard for me to resist a thriller like this one!

  6. Glad to hear that my review haven’t put you off from reading this one. And please that you enjoyed it. :)

    • You didn’t like it? I have to head over and read your review. Mine is an advanced copy loaned to me by a friend. I thought the first two thirds were better.

  7. Oh I like it!

    But I said it’s trite to keep hearing about how great China is, and you said you think so too…

    so… I thought you might not like it..

    ok ok I’m over analysing your response. Glad you like it. :)

  8. A co-worker friend of mine is raving about this book right now. He and I loved the Larsson books and he quickly snatched this one up thinking it would be similar in feel. I haven’t read it yet myself but do plan to.

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