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THE MAN FROM BEIJING by Henning Mankell


by Henning Mankell and translated by Laurie Thompson

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-27186-0
Publisher: Knopf

A sweepingly ambitious tale of corruption, injustice and revenge that ranges over three continents and 140 years, from the creator of Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander (The Pyramid, 2008, etc.).

The first person to discover the massacre at Hesjövallen is so horrified that he suffers a fatal heart attack and is hit by a truck. The stabbing and hacking of 19 neighbors and their pets in ten houses has decimated the village. Duty officer Vivi Sundberg, called to the scene, swiftly realizes that all the victims except for one unidentified boy share one of three last names—Andersson, Andrén or Magnusson—and theorizes that in a community likely to be marked by inbreeding, they may all be members of a single family. Birgitta Roslin, a judge in Helsingborg whose mother’s foster parents were among the victims, connects the horror to a smaller-scale but equally brutal murder spree: the slaughter of Jack Andrén and his wife and children in Reno, Nev. A long flashback to the shameful treatment of Chinese slave laborers on the American transcontinental railroad in the 1860s supplies further hints as to the motive. But it’s not until Birgitta travels to Beijing to accompany a friend on a business trip—and to gather information about a mysterious Chinese man who booked a hotel room near Hesjövallen the week of the crime—that a clear portrait of the killer begins to emerge. The improbable but touching friendship Birgitta strikes up with Hong Qui, the sister of a powerful player in the high-stakes game of Beijing construction, serves as the nerve center of Mankell’s sprawling tale, even though it reveals more information to the reader than to Birgitta. Another long detour, this one to contemporary Zimbabwe, adds new resonance to the massacre back in Sweden before Wallander rings down the curtain in London’s Chinatown.

Breathtakingly bold in its scope. If Mankell never links his far-flung, multigenerational horrors closely together, that’s an important part of his point.