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I first came across Henning Mankell when I watched Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Kurt Wallander on TV.
I watched them all, and then realised the BBC was also showing the original Swedish Wallander films. I loved it so much that I devoured the Wallander novels until there were none left to read.
I put off reading any more Mankell novels because I couldn’t imagine a Mankell novel that wasn’t about Wallander, but I really enjoyed The Man from Beijing.
Opens with a horrible crime
It starts with a horrible crime committed in a village in the far north of Sweden. The local police have very little to go on, and are not portrayed sympathetically, perhaps because they simply can’t cope themselves with the enormity of the crime.
A judge in the south of Sweden called Birgitta Roslin hears about it and realises she has a connection to the village. As she becomes more involved in the investigation she gradually realises that she herself may be in danger.
The book opens up to railroad building North America in the nineteenth century, crosses the Pacific to China and then London, both in the past and the present.
In revealing the origin and the perpetrator of the crime Mankell reveals relationships across distance and time.
Birgitta discovers information about the murders that the investigating police do not want to think about, and as she follows up her leads she puts herself unknowingly in real jeopardy.
Well-drawn and credible characters
Mankell creates a set of well-drawn and credible characters that I cared for as I read, and I was strongly affected by the story.
As always Mankell holds up a fascinating mirror to Swedish society which allows us to make comparisons with our own. We live in a time when we are all interconnected and events and decisions taken around the world can have huge repercussions for us.
The sections of The Man from Beijing set in China show a picture of a country beginning to flex its muscles and take its new place in the world. It’s a sobering thought.