Kemper's Reviews > The Man from Beijing

The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell
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Apr 07, 11

it was ok
bookshelves: crime-mystery, scandinavian-mayhem, thriller

Despite a bloody gore fest kicking off the action and a story that spans from 19th century America to present day China, Sweden, Africa and England, this ended up being about as interesting as a lecture on geopolitics from a semi-bright junior high student.

This book begins with the discovery of a massacre of almost the entire population of a tiny village in a remote area of Sweden. 19 people have been sliced and diced in various ways. Even the pets have been brutally killed. (Hey, Sweden. WTF? Seriously. I thought America was supposed to be the king of using wanton acts of violence for pop entertainment. But after reading Let the Right One In, Stieg Larsson and some of Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series, I’m starting to think you’re even more twisted than we are.)

A criminal judge with a foundering marriage and a bit of a mid-life crisis named Birgitta Roslin realizes that her deceased mother’s foster parents were among those killed. When Roslin unexpectedly has some time off work, she travels to the area of the slaughter for reasons she doesn’t really understand, and she ends up coming across clues indicating that the killer may have been from China. However, when a better local suspect pops up, the police chase that angle instead. Birgitta doesn’t realize that she’s stumbled into a story of revenge that began in America during the building of the transcontinental railroad during the 1860s. Great set-up for a story, but it fails miserably.

The first problem is that I don’t even know what kind of book it’s supposed to be. It’s not a horror novel or a schlock crime story despite the grisly murders that start it. It’s not a whodunit because the villain is introduced pretty early in the book along with his motives for the crime. You’d think it’d turn into a globe-spanning thriller then, right? Wrong. Despite the many exotic locales and a couple of other murders, most of the book consists of various characters' thoughts about China or their personal lives. So if you know who committed the crime, and there’s no action driving the resolution of the plot, what’s the point of the story?

The second problem is that the main character is an amateur slueth. I’m not a big fan of these characters, and it’s tricky to make it work. If you’re going to have an investigator who isn’t a professional and is outside the system, then a writer usually has to make the authorities corrupt or completely stupid. Or the protagonist has to be put in circumstances so that they won’t be believed when they uncover evidence. But in this case, you’ve got a respected Swedish judge, who the police are at least willing to listen to. So the second she realizes she’s in danger or gets a critical piece of information, you’d think she’d be on the phone. Uh…no. Because Birgitta Roslin is an utter moron.

She’s naïve when she should be paranoid.. Paranoid when she has no reason to be. Trusting when she shouldn’t be. Untrusting when she has no reason to be. All in the interests of just moving this glacially paced plot forward. Which doesn’t matter. BECAUSE I ALREADY KNOW WHO DID IT AND WHY. It’s maddening knowing everything that your idiot heroine doesn’t and is too stupid to figure out.

Prime example: At a key point near the end of the book, Birgitta, gets a critical piece of news dropped in her lap. (Everything is dropped in Birgitta’s lap. She doesn’t actually DO anything except kind of grope around in a clumsy way while claiming that she’s just trying to stay informed about the on-going investigation.) It involves locating a person that the police know they should at least talk too. You know, to solve THE GODDAMN MASS MURDER. But old Birgitta just goes to bed. She’s shocked in the morning to discover that her night’s sleep resulted in another murder, and she has good reason to think that she’s next. Despite the fact that a person of interest in a GODDAMN MASS MURDER may very well be coming to kill a freaking judge, Birgitta does NOT call the cops. Instead, she flees Sweden in a panic to go to London and seek help from a Chinese woman that she had met only once. Because when a GODDAMN MASS MURDERER is on your trail, it’s always best NOT to inform the agents of the same justice system that employs you. It’s much better to seek aid in a foreign country from someone you don't really know.

Jesus wept….

I can’t believe that the guy who writes the terrific Kurt Wallander novels is the same person who came up with this piece of crap. If Wallander would have been the guy investigating a GODDAMN MASS MURDER, you can be sure that he’d call the other cops for help when he found the guy responsible.
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Comments (showing 1-29 of 29) (29 new)

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message 1: by Dan (last edited Apr 08, 2010 02:38PM) (new)

Dan Schwent You and your fixation with the Swedes. First the Swedish Bikini Team and now the mystery novels.


message 2: by Kemper (last edited Apr 09, 2010 08:24AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kemper Dan wrote: "You and your fixation with the Swedes. First the Swedish Bikini Team and now the mystery novels."

You have no idea. They're releasing the Swedish movie version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo here this weekend, so I'm going to be spending over 2 1/2 hours in a dark theater reading subtitles on what's supposed to be a beautiful weekend. I think I need help.


Kasia Great review, you've captured everything that I wanted to say (but was too lazy to type it up) and more. It was a big mess of a book, shame because the massacre was intriguing...


Kemper Kasia wrote: "Great review, you've captured everything that I wanted to say (but was too lazy to type it up) and more. It was a big mess of a book, shame because the massacre was intriguing..."

Thanks. I agree that the beginning had huge potential. I really had high hopes until about half-way through when it started sinking it that the best part of the book was the first few chapters.


Karen I agree -- once the action left Sweden, it went completely downhill. How could a judge, who spends her days surrounded by criminals, be so naive and stupid? And the whole African angle was basically pointless filler. What happened back in the 1800s? What about the murders in Reno? This book was a disappointment.


Kemper Karen wrote: "I agree -- once the action left Sweden, it went completely downhill. How could a judge, who spends her days surrounded by criminals, be so naive and stupid? And the whole African angle was basica..."

Yeah, it was all pretty pointless to me.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

I just finished the book and am still not sure how I feel about it overall. I probably liked it more than you did but I love your review and you do pick up on some of the points that made my eyes roll.


Kemper Bernadette wrote: "I just finished the book and am still not sure how I feel about it overall. I probably liked it more than you did but I love your review and you do pick up on some of the points that made my eyes r..."

Thanks!


Alistair great review . put in to words what i felt but was too lazy / inept to write .


Kemper Alistair wrote: "great review . put in to words what i felt but was too lazy / inept to write ."

Thanks! This book does inspire fatigue.


message 11: by James (new)

James Thane OK, I'm striking this one off my list.


message 12: by MissJessie (last edited Apr 12, 2011 08:29AM) (new)

MissJessie Geeze don't hold back!

Great review, I'm taking this one off the list.


Brenda The first part, before the story shifted America, was really really good. It had the making of a great who-done-it. But then it just went down hill from their. Glad I didn't pay too much for the book. I hate wasting money on books I end up not liking.


message 14: by Eduardo (new)

Eduardo Casas Man you are a tough audience. Gulp! Please Take a look at my whodunit THE DEVIL'S AUDITOR in Amazon.
Oh, and don't be afraid to hold back as you did on this one.


Brenda We are just honest Eduardo. We're not trying to be cruel nor rude. It just wasn't what I would normally read.


message 16: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy Mann Great review. Really good.I'm in the middle of this 5 hour speech now- the one on the history of China in the middle of the book and I am getting a LITTLE bored. One more time. Your review was great. JM


Kemper Judy wrote: "Great review. Really good.I'm in the middle of this 5 hour speech now- the one on the history of China in the middle of the book and I am getting a LITTLE bored. One more time. Your review was grea..."

Unfortunately, you're gonna get a lot more bored if you keep reading. Thanks!


message 18: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy Mann I run hot and cold on this guy-Mankell.You know why these"strong women"keep popping up in this book? Because his other women in his previous books were real drek-stupid, whiney, more stupid- and PUSHY like you wouldn't believe. He must've gotten his wrists slapped for that. So NOW all his goils are "powerful","intelligent" etc.
Anyways I'd like him a lot better if he learned to comb his hair for his author photo.
Read "Kennedy's Brain". Quite quite good.And keep those reviews coming.They're good. JM


Kemper Judy wrote: "I run hot and cold on this guy-Mankell.You know why these"strong women"keep popping up in this book? Because his other women in his previous books were real drek-stupid, whiney, more stupid- and PU..."

I liked the first two books in the Wallander series he does that I read, but that's all I've tried other than this. And this one kind of killed my enthusaism for trying more.


message 20: by Kim (new)

Kim Casey Wow- great review! You precisely summed up my feelings on this book.


Kemper Kim wrote: "Wow- great review! You precisely summed up my feelings on this book."

Thanks. It was pretty underwhelming overall.


message 22: by Poh (new) - rated it 2 stars

Poh Lin You said in so many ways my perception of the story after having read it. The slice & dice in the beginning made my toes curl! I was anticipating having to skip some chapters if it got too gory. BUT... having read the book, I'm left wondering, "So what happened???? Did I miss some chapters that I didn't know what went on?". The story in itself is so much hype; I had thought it was a very good story, but it didn't cut it for me eventually. The jigsaw puzzle in the book is still missing a number of pieces! Just hate stories that leaves me hanging. BLAH.


Kemper Poh wrote: "You said in so many ways my perception of the story after having read it. The slice & dice in the beginning made my toes curl! I was anticipating having to skip some chapters if it got too gory. BU..."

Blah is a good description of it.


Marie I think I only checked out this book because I have vague memories of seeing it everywhere, so I didn't check GR before reading. Your review encapsulates all that I took issue with. Such a relief. I'd started to wonder if I was crazy or the world was, if this was supposed to be a thriller.


Kemper Marie wrote: "Such a relief. I'd started to wonder if I was crazy or the world was, if this was supposed to be a thriller.

It's not you. It's the world.


message 26: by Daaron (new)

Daaron "If Wallander would have been the guy investigating a GODDAMN MASS MURDER, you can be sure that he’d call the other cops for help when he found the guy responsible."

- Spoiler on other Mankell titles -
Still I sometimes got the same feeling you are discribing here when reading "The Dogs of Riga". With Wallander being out there alone and apparently without any possibility to appeal to the Swedish authorities. And now that I think of it even the ending of "Firewall" seemed to be a somewhat adventurous undertaking by Wallander and only two of his colleagues to me. Mankell does make his caracters act irrationally and very much on there own more than ones...


Katie Love Thanks for precisely summing up my frustrations with the book. Great review.


Kemper Katie wrote: "Thanks for precisely summing up my frustrations with the book. Great review."

'Frustration' should have been this book's title. Thanks!


message 29: by Trudi (new)

Trudi "But after reading Let the Right One In, Stieg Larsson and some of Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series, I’m starting to think you’re even more twisted than we are.)"

Hard to believe this is the same country that spawned ABBA. I ask you: Can you hear the drums, Fernando?


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