Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell

The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell
Published February 2010 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: I bought this one...twice

Publisher's Summary:
January 2006. In the Swedish hamlet of Hesjövallen, nineteen people have been massacred. The only clue is a red ribbon found at the scene.

Judge Birgitta Roslin has particular reason to be shocked: Her grandparents, the Andréns, are among the victims, and Birgitta soon learns that an Andrén family in Nevada has also been murdered. She then discovers the nineteenth-century diary of an Andrén ancestor—a gang master on the American transcontinental railway—that describes brutal treatment of Chinese slave workers. The police insist that only a lunatic could have committed the Hesjövallen murders, but Birgitta is determined to uncover what she now suspects is a more complicated truth.

The investigation leads to the highest echelons of power in present-day Beijing, and to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. But the narrative also takes us back 150 years into the depths of the slave trade between China and the United States—a history that will ensnare Birgitta as she draws ever closer to solving the Hesjövallen murders.  

My Thoughts:
I first heard about The Man From Beijing in 2010 on NPR and I was convinced I needed to read it. I bought it as soon as it came out in paperback and then, as so often happens, it sat on the shelf, neglected, until I found an audiobook copy at my library sale. Finally, I was going to learn what makes the world-renowned Mankell so popular.

After 12 CD's though, I still don't know. The book opens with a bang; the brutal murders of 19 people are discovered in Sweden.  Almost immediately, though, I began to have doubts. It was clear, early on, that while the police blundered along, Birgitta was going to find clue after clue without their help and without their being willing to give credence to what she's discovered. It's just the kind of thing that will turn me off of a television series (I'm looking at you CSI: Miami). Still, I was interested to uncover the truth behind the murders.
Copyright Lina Ikse Bergman

Eventually Mankell was going to get there, but not until readers had been taken on a massive detour into history, traveling from China to Nevada to England and back to China. It set up the reason for the murders but it was so jarring and so drawn out, I completely lost interest in the book. In fact, if I'd actually been reading the book, I might have tossed it aside. Since I could let it drone on without paying much attention, I did until I found myself back in the present, although still in China. Here again the story became interesting but it felt completely unrelated to the murder mystery. Finally Mankell tied that part of the story back to the murder mystery and Birgitta and the story picked up again.

Mankell has a lot to say with The Man From Beijing. He takes jabs at the Swedish government, the U.S. and all Western powers, Mao, and corruption in growing China, and Chinese development in Africa. It's all very interesting stuff - it just seemed out of place in a murder mystery. Then again, this really isn't a murder mystery. The biggest mystery still remains, for me, why people in 40 countries wanted Mankell's books translated.


  1. Doesn't sounds like something I'd want to read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Sorry it didn't work for you. While I still don't know what I think about Mankell, I'm intrigued enough after reading A Treacherous Paradise to, I think, pick this one up off my shelf and give it a try.

  3. Wow! Great review. I will not be picking this one up.

  4. You've described many of the reasons why I found this one disappointing after having read some of Mankell's earlier books and had found them quite interesting perhaps because the English language version of the television series added value. He seems to have gone off the radar as I don't think anything else has been translated into English and published.

  5. Interesting! And Im so impressed that you stick with things even if you don't like them very much. I usually give up after 50 pages, but there are times when I think I should have persevered. (Like, the "Girl who" books)