Henning Mankell - The Man From Beijing (3 stars)

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Henning Mankell - The Man From Beijing

(Harvill Secker)

As all Wallander fans will testify, Henning Mankell does a good line in legal professionals. His long-running series about the flawed but eminently likeable detective has sold millions worldwide, not to mention spawned TV adaptations in both Britain and Sweden. So when we first meet Swedish judge Birgitta Roslin in The Man from Beijing, our first thought is, ‘Ah, a female Wallander’. Which is true to a degree. Roslin has the same ponderous nature and capacity to think outside the box when it comes to criminal behaviour. Her health and personal life aren’t in great shape either, another Wallander trait.

Whether he’s writing crime novels or general fiction, Mankell’s prose has a very human quality. He takes us deep inside the minds of all his characters, exposing their hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses. Coupled with his ability to grab you by the neck and pull you headlong into a gruesome murder mystery, this goes a long way. When The Man from Beijing sticks to this well-known and well-loved path, the book delivers everything you could hope for from a Mankell.

The novel falls down, however, when he strays outside this territory into political commentary. Page after page is taken up with expositional text about China’s social and economic past; fascinating when approached via the tale of an 18th century peasant, less so during the long reminisces of Roslin’s days as a radical student. Which is a shame, because undiluted, this well-constructed thriller would have had a pincer-like grip.

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