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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What I'm Reading: The Man From Beijing

The Man from BeijingWhile I waiting for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest to come in on audio for me, I listened to Henning Mankell's non-Wallandar title, The Man From Beijing. I have read the more traditional Nordic Noir Wallander books and watched the PBS series based on these books and enjoyed them. I also have an interest in books with a Chinese frame, so I thought this would be a good choice for me.

However, I am sad to report that I was not fully satisfied by The Man From Beijing.

We begin with a man stumbling upon a remote Swedish village in which it appears everyone was murdered. After a bit more suspense building and being introduced to a few more characters who will think will be our protagonist, Mankell finally settles on a Judge who it seems has a family connection to the murder victims (although it is a stretch). We follow her as she puts the pieces of the murder together.

The book bounces around in time and perspective as the murders are related to a centuries old revenge plot involving a Chinese man who was enslaved to build the railroad in the American West. Confused yet? Well hang on. We still have to hear from his modern day ancestor, that guy's sister, and then back to the judge.

The problem here is that each section is interesting, but put together, the whole thing feels a bit too spread thin. Just as I started to care about one storyline/character, the focus shifted. Also it all felt very forced to me. I could never really care about a character because he or she may disappear for a hunmdred pages, or seem interesting at first but then turn out to mean nothing to the plot.

An example are the Swedish missionaries who befriend the Chinese freed slaves as they make their way back to America. Once their part is over, they are gone, yet Mankell seemed to build them up so that we should really care about them; that they will be important. Yeah, not so much.

Also annoying, he includes a final chapter in which we see the murders from the perspective of the killer but it is wholly unsatisfying  because we are already certain of who did it and why. This chapter adds nothing.

Overall, I was underwhelmed. Or can you not tell?

Three Words That Describe This Book: mutliple-points of view, china, historical detail

NOTE: my three words have no hint of how I felt about the book. These are there to help you (and me) suggest this book to possible readers who may enjoy it. My work does not concern itself with who would NOT enjoy it. These three words are objective about why would it be appealing.

Readalikes: If you want to read other Scandinavian Mysteries, use this link where I have talked about the multitude of reading options.

However, I suspect that many people may be more interested in novels and nonfiction about China after reading The Man From Bejing.  This I can also help you with. Try:
And if that is not enough for you, Lit Lists offers the following links:
5 Good Short Books on China
Top 10 Unputdownable Chinese Books
Lisa See's Suggestions: Notable Books About China
Best China Books of 2008
Best Books About Chinese Women in 2008
Top 10 Books on Beijing
Top Books on Modern China
Five Best: Guides to China and Its History

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