The Man from Beijing

May 21, 2012

Even though I had already started reading Henning Mankell’s Wallander series, and I had planned to plow through them in order, family politics required a change of plans. In this case, my wife had placed The Man from Beijing on the pile of books to be passed on to the next book deprived friend to enter our house. Since I had no idea when such a friend might materialize, I decided the only safe course was to read The Man before he disappeared.

The hero of this book is a radical departure from Kurt Wallander. First, reflecting the entry of women into positions of public responsibility, we find ourselves peering over the shoulder of a female Swedish judge who unexpectedly finds herself playing chief detective when some distant and elderly relatives are brutally slaughtered along with all of the other inhabitants of a remote northern village. Before long she is crossing swords with another woman in a position of authority, the Swedish detective who is directing the investigation into the killings. Still later, when the judge follows the murderer’s trail to China, she encounters powerful women from China’s ruling elite.

However, The Man from Beijing is not really a story about changing gender roles, or the emergence of China as an economic superpower, or the resourcefulness of overworked and romantically deprived Swedish judges. What drives the plot forward, and what kept me on the edge of my chair, was a tale of revenge. Not just an eye for an eye, but a crazed, maniacal bloodlust that defies all reason. And while this kind of thirst is rarely seen in public, there is evidence (consider the street celebrations over Osama bin Laden’s death) that it can be found trickling through more hearts than one might care to think about.

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