Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Review of The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell (Vintage, 2007)
The title and the cover tagline (‘Revenge can take more than a lifetime’) neatly sum up in a few words the story that Henning Mankell spins out over 560 pages. The first section of the book is a typical Scandinavian police procedural and is enjoyable and quite gripping. But then the second section is set in China and Nevada in the mid-nineteenth century, the next in modern day China, then we visit East Africa, before heading back to China, Sweden and London. While the mid-nineteenth century story is interesting, what follows is a rambling tale that is more a partial political treatise than a thriller. Whole chunks of the material is overly descriptive and little move the story forward, there are a host of clunky plot devices, and bits of it make little sense, including why a very successful man from Beijing felt so compelled to murder 19 people for the way his ancestors were treated (not killed) more than a 130 years previously, and why a shooting in London is not investigated in any meaningful way. In effect, Mankell has jammed two stories together – a murder in Sweden by someone holding an inter-generational grudge and a political tale about in-fighting amongst China’s elite and its policy in Africa. Neither quite work on their own, let alone together. After a good start then, the book becomes increasingly flabby and, in my view, untenable. Which was a shame.