Sunday, December 22, 2013

Trail of Blood: Henning Mankell's The Man from Beijing

History can never give us exact knowledge of what will happen in the future: rather, it shows us that our ability to prepare ourselves for change is limited. (375)

A couple of years ago, Stieg Larson and Scandanavian crime fiction were the flavour of the season. Everybody, but everybody, was talking about them. Finally, I too succumbed and borrowed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from a friend.....And wished I hadn't. The tale of sadistic men and sexual savagery was so repulsive that I left the book mid-way. The upshot of all this was that it put me off Scandanavian crime writing.

But then fellow- mystery-lovers Bev@My Reader's Blog, and Srivalli @ Valli's Book Den posted enthusiastic reviews of one Nordic crime writing after another. Well, I succumbed again and borrowed Henning Mankell's The Man from Beijing.

Karsten Hoglin is on a photoshooting assignment that takes him to the sleepy hamlet of Hesjovallen where it is like he has stepped into an inferno because it is strewn with corpses. When the police arrive on the scene, they are faced with something unparalleled in Swedish history. Nineteen people have been brutally hacked to death. Even as the investigation gets under way, a judge, Birgitta Roslin, gets interested in the case as one of the couples murdered happens to be the foster-parents of her mother. Roslin starts her own investigation into the crime only to discover that the reason for the killing might lie in a long-forgotten past of poverty and exploitation.

Menkell's novel dares to ask questions that one doesn't quite like to be asked: the issue of racism, the brutal behaviour of the whites towards people of other colours, the system of indentured labour, the controversial role of the missionaries. However, it does seem at times that he is attempting just a little too much.

There are some lines though of sheer beauty:

Memory is like glass, she thought. A person who has died is still visible, very close. But we can no longer contact each other. death is mute; it excludes conversations, only allows silence. (86)

There is a silence in empty houses that is unique, she thought. People have left and taken all the noise with them. (97)

Also I was surprised to read that a judge's husband chose to be (after studying law) a train conductor. In a status-conscious society like India this would be unthinkable.


First Line: I, Birgitta Roslin, do solemnly declare that I shall endeavour to the best of my knowledge and in accordance with my conscience to pass judgement without fear or favour, be the accused rich or poor, and according to the law and statutes of Sweden; never to pervert the law nor to promote wrongdoings on grounds of family connections, friendship, jealousy, malevolence, or fear, nor in response to bribes or gifts or for any other reason of no matter what nature; never to impute guilt where there is innocence, nor innocence where there is guilt.

Title: The Man from Beijing.

Original Title: Kinesen

Author: Henning Mankell

Translator: Laurie Thompson

Original Language: Swedish

Publication Details: London: Vintage Books, 2011

First Published: 2008

Pages: 553

Other Books read of the same author: None


The book can be purchased on the Net. I borrowed it from the morning college library.


Submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, 2013 Translation, European Reading, Historical Fiction,  Let Me Count the ways, New Authors, What Countries Have I Visited


  1. Neeru - I happen to be a fan of Henning Mankell's work I'm so very glad you enjoyed this one, and honestly, I think the whole Kurt Wallander series is great. So happy to hear you've discovered Mankell.

    1. Thank you, Margot. I am keen to read the Kurt Wallander series.

  2. Merry Christmas . . . . . . . I hope all is well and Hunky Dory...

    1. Thanks and Merry Christmas to you too, Rob.

  3. Thanks for this review, neer. I have several books by Mankell, but not this one. I will add it to my list to look for. The only drawback is the length.

    1. Thanks Tracy. This is a little on the gruesome, bloody side so read it only if you are in the mood for such a thing.