My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Man from Beijing is a Mankell novel in which Kurt Wallender never makes an appearance. The protagonist here is rather an unlikely one, being a 50-something Swedish woman who happens to be a highly regarded judge. A shocking mass murder has occurred in a remote northern village populated by elderly people, most of whom are related. When Birgitta discovers that the foster parents of her mother are among the dead, she travels to the scene of the crime to find out what the police know. Within days, they’ve arrested a suspect, but Birgitta’s experience tells her they’ve got the wrong man.
From here on out, the book jumps between time periods and places. From 19th century China and America, to 20th century China, and to present day China, Africa, and England, Birgitta tracks the history behind the horrendous crime. The 19th century segments, depicting the dismal lives of Chinese peasants as they work to build America’s railroads, are interesting, but thereafter the writing sinks into a dry essay into the workings of modern Chinese financial and political problems. True, some of the details have direct bearing on the mystery plot, but it takes way too long to distinguish what they are. The action picks up again when Birgitta returns to Sweden, and realizes that she’s the target of whoever perpetrated the mass murder.
If this book had been ruthlessly edited, perhaps it could have matched the tension inherent in the Wallender series. Regrettably, it wasn’t, and readers should be prepared to slog through the politics before the mystery is solved.