Thursday, 9 September 2010
The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell, Knopf
Eh? China? Wallander?
You’re right, m’dear, this is by Henning Mankell, who writes those gloomy Swedish thrillers about depressed detective Kurt Wallander - but this time his lead is a woman and his villain Chinese.
Not as such. Judge Birgitta Roslin, loosely associated with an extended family wiped out in a remote hamlet on the border between Norway and Sweden.
Her mammy was fostered by a couple now in the far reaches of antiquity, who are among the 19 members of the Andren clan to be sliced and diced. The police have a theory. Birgitta soon has a different one.
But Beijing? What? Where?
Meanwhile in Beijing’s wealthiest sector, a super-powerful industrialist is reading the diary of his ancestor, who was enslaved. The foreman of the railroad gang that destroyed his life was one Jan August Andren.
Straightforward revenge story then?
Indeed no - this is Mankell. Darker forces are at work. In Africa, the Chinese (nervous of internal revolution, as why wouldn’t they be) are preparing a plantation - they want to ship in millions of poor Chinese farmers.
To Africa? You’re joking?
They’re persuading the African leaders that it’s going to benefit their own people, because schools, hospitals, roads, telecommunications, etc will follow the planters to sparsely populated areas.
Mankell’s making this all up out of his head?
Hope so. Unnervingly, he has inside knowledge of Africa - the author lives part of his time in Mozambique.
It’s linked to the killings how?
The psycho who sent the killer is high up in China’s elite. And - well, read it for yourself.
Very good at times, but Mankell has trouble keeping all the themes - murder, Maoist theory, modern Chinese emigration, 19th-century exploitation - from spinning out of control.