Friday, February 19, 2010
The Man from Beijing, by Henning Mankell
The opening scenes of this book are positively chilling, when at first a hungry wolf, away from its pack, is searching for food around the tiny village of Hesjövallen and chances upon a human leg. Then later, a researcher looking into the phenomenon of small towns and villages that are simply dying out stumbles upon the scene of a massacre -- with the exception of three people, everyone there has been gruesomely murdered. The only clue: a red ribbon that someone has left behind in the snow. In charge of the investigation is one Vivian Sundberg. Sundberg crosses paths with a judge named Birgitta Roslin, currently on sick leave for high blood pressure issues, who reads about the slaughter in her local newspaper and realizes that the victims included her mother's foster parents. Birgitta wants to help the police, and as she goes to volunteer her information, she has unknowingly already started down a most dangerous path.
Now, if things had launched from that point in the usual Mankell style, I would have been reading with the usual high level of suspense tension that his works generally produce. However, Mankell seems to have some issues he wants to deal with, apart from just the decaying state of Swedish society. He takes the reader into a discussion of current philosophical divisiveness regarding the future direction of the People's Republic of China, going from there into the plight of parts of post-colonial Africa, and although it all does tie into the story line, you sort of get the feeling that you're getting lectured to here at times. And although eventually things do come full circle, the getting there just wasn't done in the usual Mankell style. The motivation of the bad guy didn't seem realistic, and neither did some of the actions of Birgitta, since she is supposedly someone who is meant to uphold the law. And there are a few too many coincidences at work in this novel.
Perhaps it's not fair to judge this book based on others that the author has written, but you can't really help it in the long run. I love Mankell's work (and I've read a LOT of his books), but this one just didn't do it for me. But, since it's getting rave reviews at a lot of places, don't just take my word for it. I'm just one person swimming against the tide of popular opinion.