Monday, May 17, 2021

My Least Favorite Book of Henning Mankell's - And What Happened Next

(I posted this review back in September of 2011 when author Henning Mankell just about scared me away from his books forever. But even though I don't think I ever read another of his standalones, I didn't completely give up on Mankell - and I came to really love his Kurt Wallander books. I had forgotten all about how much I disliked this particular book, and had to chuckle a little as I read it.)


Henning Mankell is best known for having created fictional detective Kurt Wallander, a character I am familiar with via a couple of BBC adaptations of Mankell’s work.  Wallander is typical of the genre, I suppose.  He is another of those broken down, older detectives whose personal life is in ruins but who gamely carries on with catching the local bad guys.  It is all very dark and moody, but I almost always take to that type of atmosphere and character and that is what I expected to get from The Man from Beijing.

And, at first, that is what I got.  The story opens at the scene of a spectacular mass murder in one of Sweden’s most isolated little villages.  All but three of the village’s twenty-two inhabitants have been brutally slaughtered in just a few hours and police are struggling to identify either a motive for the murders or a suspect.  When Judge Birgitta Roslin, who is on a two-week medical leave from the bench, realizes that this is the same village her mother was raised in, she decides to go there for a personal look.  Once there, and sensing that the police investigation is headed in the wrong direction, Roslin begins her own - an investigation that leads her to believe that a Chinese assassin is responsible for the deaths.

Butting heads with the local police, however, proves to be rather fruitless, so Roslin continues to nose around on her own.  Her amateur investigation brings her all the way to China where her efforts attract the attention of the wrong people.  Just happy to escape Beijing in one piece, Roslin returns to Sweden only to find that her Chinese troubles have followed her home.

Henning Mankell
Henning Mankell had the makings of a snappy crime thriller on his hands if he had only stuck with this basic plot and characters.  Even the long flashback dealing with San, a Chinaman kidnapped to work on America’s transcontinental railroad was interesting (and directly pertained to the plot), although, for the most part, very dryly narrated.  By the time Mankell got back to present day Sweden, I was beginning to get a little hazy on some of the murder details and the Swedish characters.  I managed to get myself back on track only to find that Mankell had a long, boring harangue in store for his readers.  The author managed to move the side plot along eventually, but along the way he had one of his main characters read segments of political speeches that in real time were said to last four or five hours.  As I listened to Mankell defend the likes of Chairman Mao and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, I began to understand how the character’s captive audience must have felt.

This is a good book gone very, very bad.  It reads more as an excuse for Mankell to preach his own leftist political views than as a book to be enjoyed by mystery/thriller fans.  Had The Man from Beijing been properly edited, it could have been a gripping police procedural about a stunning crime.  As is, it is a tremendous bore about a stunning crime.

8 comments:

  1. I have not read this book. I did read all of the books in the Wallander series and quite enjoyed them - some more than others. I also enjoyed the television series based on the books with Kenneth Branagh as Wallander. Mankell was quite a talented writer, but even talented writers have their misses, which apparently this book was.

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    1. For sure, Dorothy, and it's not always their fault, I suppose. This one just struck me as so preachy that I wouldn't have read it if I had known about the number of pages he would use to preach his brand of politics. It even had a tinge of anti-Americanism at one point that kind of bothered me.

      My chuckles come from how negative I was about this one when compared to how I feel about his books now.

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  2. I stopped reading Mankell's Wallander books somewhere around #4 or 5, and I don't know why. It wasn't because I disliked them. I did enjoy Branagh's BBC series except for one thing: the ring tone on his phone. More than once, I wanted to grab that blasted thing and throw it into the pool!

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    1. LOL...what I really hate about ring tones in movies and on television is when they hit on the exact one I use. I've reached for my phone more times that I can count.

      Have you seen the Swedish version of the Wallander books? The subtitles go by pretty quickly, but I like their version better than the BBC one.

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  3. I enjoyed many of the Wallander books, but toward the end things got too close as I was dealing with my father's dementia.

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    1. I haven't read the books dealing with Wallander's dementia yet, Jen, but after dealing with my own father's dementia problems, I can certainly understand your reluctance to read them while going through that. I have, though, seen a little of that in the Swedish television series made from the books, and I found it terribly sad to see a favorite fictional character have to go through that.

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  4. Sam, thanks for this review. I will definitely not be reading this tome. Dealing with all the Leftist's ideas now in our country makes me not want to read anymore of that tripe!

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    1. Tricia, I found the long section on the merits of communism and socialism, etc. to be rather jarring in the middle of a thriller. That made me think that it was there for only the purpose of positively contrasting those systems to capitalism and American politics because it added noting much to the plot or to the development of any of the book's characters. I was disappointed in the author. I didn't have that experience with his Kurt Wallander books, though.

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