three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-The Man From BeijingHenning Mankell, who resides in both Sweden and Mozambique, is best known for his award-winning Kurt Wallander mysteries, which were adapted into a BBC miniseries starring Kenneth Branagh.

The Story: Judge Birgitta Roslin--a cynical former Maoist activist with existentialist leanings--is shocked to discover that her foster grandparents, the Andréns, are among 19 people murdered by samurai sword in the Swedish hamlet of Hesjövallen. When another Andrén family, this one in Nevada, is also massacred, Birgitta wonders if she'll be the next victim. A 19th-century diary of an ancestor--he was a foreman working on the U.S. transcontinental railroad--provides a clue to these deaths as Birgitta begins an amateur investigation that takes her from modern-day Sweden to Beijing, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and back to the 19th-century American West.
Knopf. 384 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780307271860

Entertainment Weekly 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Flashbacks rarely work in mysteries, but here they do, thanks to Mankell's sheer skill. This is hands down the best thriller I've read in five years." Tina Jordan

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"What I applaud most is its ambition. Its aim is broad and high, startlingly so: It's out to shake us up, say something about the world we're in, about the nature of our lives in this world at this moment." John Timpane

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"[Mankell] succeeds in transfixing the reader with a masterly balance of character sketches and pell-mell storytelling. He is entirely convincing in his depiction of ordinary people, ‘absorbed in their own thoughts, their own fates,' becoming enmeshed in geopolitical intrigue." Tom Nolan

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Mankell's books are an acquired taste, as catchy as a cello sonata, but filled with the kind of deep, ruminative writing that rewards concentration and patience. ... The Man From Beijing suffers from stilted language (perhaps the fault of the translator) and clunky plot devices." Jonathan Shapiro

Spectator (UK) 1.5 of 5 Stars
"It is difficult for the reader to feel much empathy for the characters--there are too many of them, and even their suffering becomes an abstract quality, like a set of statistics. ... Sometimes this is closer to a lecture than a crime thriller." Andrew Taylor

Critical Summary

Critics generally agree that Mankell's stand-alone thriller--a combination of police procedural and geopolitical novel--lives up to the best of the Kurt Wallander series. Piercing into its inquiries into corruption, revenge, as well as imperialism, Communism, racism, and other evil "isms," The Man from Beijing reaches for deeper truths about humanity and largely succeeds. Some reviewers identified a few missteps, with the Spectator criticizing the wandering narrative and polemical tone. But in the end, the novel just may, as the Los Angeles Times noted, "cement Mankell's reputation as Sweden's greatest living mystery writer."