Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Searching for the Truth

With “Beijing” in the title it would not be surprising to find the action of The Man from Beijing taking place in China. But the author Henning Mankell is Swedish, one of the Scandinavian mystery writers enjoying current popularity tied to the Steig Larsson books (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.). Which is not to say that Mankell is not an accomplished writer in his own right. He has published more than 15 novels and mysteries including several award winners and a PBS television series (the Kurt Wallander mysteries.) But it can’t hurt to have the Larsson wind at his back.

Before we get to China in this current book, we witness the massacre of almost all of the inhabitants, ten households, nineteen people, of the small Swedish hamlet of Hesjovallen (that may be a fictitious name but I am not sure). Our main character Judge Birgitta Roslin lives outside of Helsingborg (a real place in Sweden.) She’s overworked due to budgetary cutbacks in the Swedish judicial system; her four children are grown and on their own; and her relationship with her husband has lost its intimacy.

“I’m no longer even in the middle of my life, she thought. I’ve passed the point that one doesn’t even realize is being passed. There won’t be that many difficult decisions left for me to make. But I shall remain a judge until I retire. With luck I should be able to enjoy my grandchildren before it’s all over.” But then high blood pressure and anxiety attacks intervene and she is forced to take two weeks off…which gives her the opportunity to follow-up on her suspicion that she is related to some of the victims of the massacre. The thriller takes off from there.

The connection between Sweden and China that the author has set up is wonderfully inventive with some history thrown in, too. Some of the story is in the United States and some in Africa as well. This is what got to me: If the historical parts in the US are true, as I believe they are, then could the parts in China and Africa also be true? That would be really scary. I will be watching the headlines more carefully for connections between these two countries. A very thought-provoking book.

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