Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell

Protagonist: Birgitta Roslin
Setting: Sweden and China
Rating: 4.0
A photographer is traveling through rural Sweden when he stops at a small scenic village. But something is off: no smoke is coming out of the chimneys even though it's a cold winter day. Soon enough, he starts to stumble on dead bodies. When police arrive, they find 18 dead, one of the biggest mass slayings in Sweden. But this is not the usual police procedural. In fact, it's not the police who solve the mystery -- they arrest the wrong man -- but a judge, Birgitta Roslin, who is connected to some of the victims.

I had mixed feelings about this book. I really, really wanted to like it. It is, after all, written by the great Henning Mankell, who writes the popular Kurt Wallander series.

And this is by no means a bad book. There's much I did like: the main characters are, for the most part, strong and intelligent women. I very much liked them. The story, up to a point, held my attention. However, about two-thirds of the way through, the action switches from Sweden to China. It jarred, taking me out of the Swedish story and into a more political story involving China and Africa.

Then there was the whole premise for the murders. The killer is avenging a family wrong committed 138 years ago, but taking his revenge out on innocents. And while we get to know the killer quiet well, it was still hard to believe he'd kill for that purpose. Lastly, the translation seemed clunky. I'm sure Mankell is a wonderful writing, but it read stilted in English.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but warily, not enthusiastically.

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