The Man from Beijing
By Henning Mankell
Random House Large Print (2010), 616 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - August 6, 2010
Mankell literally surpassed himself with this remarkably presented tale of a gruesome murder that affects the lives of many people in many lands. After reading his first Kurt Wallander mystery, Faceless Killers, and the five short stories called The Pyramid, I thought of Henning Mankell as a good writer, but not a terrific one. This novel, which is not about his detective Wallander, the subject of ten of his mysteries, does not have the slow almost plodding pace I felt in the two other books of his that I read. The drama moves at a proper pace, with interesting characters, revealing intriguing information from time to time that does not fully disclose what prompted the murders or their impact upon society, but which draws the reader’s attention, causes her to think, and heightens her interest. I was surprised that I did not find this splendid novel among the top fifteen best sellers on the New York Times list.
A photographer discovers a horrid group of murders in a small Swedish village where every inhabitant, everyone old, is brutally killed with repeated vicious knife wounds, as if the killer wanted the people to suffer as they lay dying. But three villagers are not killed or even attacked and a young boy is killed by a single thrust, without violence. Why old people? Why were two not quite old people and a senile woman spared? Why was the boy not mistreated? Is this a unique crime, or did it occur before?
The police, led by a zaftig, aggressive, middle age, sharp-speaking detective and a lead prosecutor with book knowledge, but no experience, discover a somewhat disturbed repeat criminal who admits to the crime, and then commits suicide. A district court judge from another part of Sweden realizes that two of the victims had been foster parents to her mother. She travels to the village and finds objects and witnesses that the police refuse to examine: a ribbon from a local Chinese restaurant, the picture of the Chinese man who sat at the table when the ribbon was removed, a hotel owner who saw the man, a diary of a vicious Swedish man who mistreated Chinese, blacks, and Indians during the mid-1800s while these enslaved people were forced to build the American railroad.
Besides the brutal murder of Swedes, interesting characters, and the story of the American railroads, the crime affects non-Swedish families, the future of China and Africa, and the judge finds herself pursued by unknown people both in Sweden and in England.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.