The Washington Post
The Man from Beijingby Henning Mankell
The acclaimed author of the Kurt Wallander mysteries, writing at the height of his powers, now gives us an electrifying stand-alone global thriller.
January 2006. In the Swedish hamlet of Hesjövallen, nineteen people have been massacred. The only clue is a red ribbon found at the scene.
Judge Birgitta Roslin has particular reason to be shocked: Her… See more details below
The acclaimed author of the Kurt Wallander mysteries, writing at the height of his powers, now gives us an electrifying stand-alone global thriller.
January 2006. In the Swedish hamlet of Hesjövallen, nineteen people have been massacred. The only clue is a red ribbon found at the scene.
Judge Birgitta Roslin has particular reason to be shocked: Her grandparents, the Andréns, are among the victims, and Birgitta soon learns that an Andrén family in Nevada has also been murdered. She then discovers the nineteenth-century diary of an Andrén ancestor—a gang master on the American transcontinental railway—that describes brutal treatment of Chinese slave workers. The police insist that only a lunatic could have committed the Hesjövallen murders, but Birgitta is determined to uncover what she now suspects is a more complicated truth.
The investigation leads to the highest echelons of power in present-day Beijing, and to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. But the narrative also takes us back 150 years into the depths of the slave trade between China and the United States—a history that will ensnare Birgitta as she draws ever closer to solving the Hesjövallen murders.
The Washington Post
The first presence we encounter in Henning Mankell's new novel, The Man from Beijing, is not human but animal. A starving wolf that has crossed from Norway into Sweden pauses at the edge of a forest to survey an isolated village. "There are people living in the houses but no smoke rising from the chimneys. His sharp ears can't detect the slightest sound." The wolf does, however, smell blood. And he quickly finds something to eat. Something human.
The next moment we are in a hotel, observing a photographer as he wakes from a dream of a picture he once took. "He lay motionless in bed and felt the image returning slowly, as if the negative of his dream were sending a copy up into his conscious mind . . . a man sitting on an old iron bed, with a hunting rifle hanging on the wall . . . ." The photographer, who studies deserted and dwindling villages, presently approaches the settlement visited earlier by the wolf. We will lose sight of both these visitors, man and beast, but they will remain, dreamlike, at the edge of our vision as this extraordinary novel expands to become not only a crime story but also a gripping historical drama and political thriller.
Mankell, a supremely unpretentious writer who is best known for his fine Inspector Kurt Wallender series, disorients us with this near-mythical overture even as he plants us firmly in the frozen land. Fascinated by Mankell's vision from the first paragraph, we are simultaneously befogged by it. The police, when they arrive, are similarly affected. "It was as if a blood-laden hurricane had stormed through the village," the female officer in charge observes, " . . . as if she were viewing the deaddisfigured bodies through a telescope . . . ."
The crime is operatic in scale and setting, yet Mankell maintains the hypnotic effect of his narrative with plain language and with details that reveal the everyday pain of ordinary lives. Entering one solitary victim's house, for instance, a police officer notes that it is " . . . neat and tidy. On one wall were photographs of her dead husband and the two children who didn't care about her."
A crime story is what we expect, of course, and that is what we get at first. As news of the village killings breaks, a provincial judge realizes that her dead mother shares a past with one of the murdered couples. "I can see the surface," Birgitta Roslin thinks as she peruses neglected family documents, " . . . thin threads intertwining with one another. But what lay behind it all?" She discovers a family connection to the U.S. in the 19th century. More chilling, however, is the moment when Birgitta stumbles on a contemporary newspaper report of similar killings in Nevada. Propelled by a mixture of curiosity and fear, she travels to the site of the Swedish murders. We sense the novel shunting onto a predictable track.
Not quite, however. Clues surface, certainly, but Mankell is so sly -- with one clue in particular -- that we are denied any easy, linear progress. Instead we are briefly stranded with Birgitta in a modern hotel in a gloomy town adjacent to the crime scene, where a Chinese restaurant provides both color and a whiff of intrigue. When she is permitted to enter the house of the dead couple to whom she may be related, Birgitta realizes that "People have left and taken all noise with them" while leaving her another "thin thread" of connection to follow. She picks it up and Mankell spins us around again, catapulting us back to China in 1863, where three near-starving brothers, fleeing a murderous overlord, make their way to the coast. There is said to be work in Canton and ships that sail to America. On the second day of their trek, the brothers reach "a crossroads where three human heads were mounted on bamboo poles that had been driven into the ground," but greater horrors await them in Canton and later in the U.S., where the new railroad devours workers and spawns sadists.
"On March 9, 1864," we read, "Guo Si and San started hacking away the mountain blocking the railway line that would eventually span the whole American continent." Mankell's dry, economical style powerfully conveys the brutality and the desperation of America's expansion. In winter, cold lies on the land "like a blanket of iron," and in summer San and his remaining brother are "hoisted up in the baskets of death" armed with nitroglycerine sticks "to open reluctant chunks of the mountain."
San, the surviving brother, finally returns to China where he becomes the trusted servant of Swedish missionaries and begins to write down his experiences. Here again, Mankell cunningly exposes even these incidental characters, evangelizing Swedes who perplex the Chinese because "They had nothing to sell, and there was nothing they wanted to buy. They simply stood there and spoke in bad Chinese about a God who treated all human beings as equals."
The final third of the novel returns us to the present and to Birgitta's solitary search for the truth behind the village killings. That search leads to China and briefly to West Africa as Mankell expertly choreographs his most daring -- and arguably his most political -- plot to date, one that involves China's overseas expansion, its growing domestic unrest, and the seismic tensions within that country's ruling Communist party.
"Big changes do not take place on the battlefield," a Chinese analyst observes as he prepares to address a secret conference of the country's rulers, "They happen behind locked doors." Mankell takes us behind those doors, allowing us a rare -- and utterly convincing -- insight into China's political history and the preoccupations of its ruling elite. Yet the tension of the murder mystery never slackens, and the links connecting the immediate crime to its remote origins are deftly, but never intrusively, established.
At its core, The Man from Beijing is a classic revenge tale whose central character could have stepped out of Shakespeare, or even Sophocles, so great is his ambition and his reach. That wonderfully sinister presence lurks behind every tight bend that the novel takes, yet it is the dull provincial judge who holds our main attention and, of course, our sympathy. "She suddenly felt old," Birgitta reflects when she finds herself in Beijing. " . . . [T]here was still a bit to go, then the path would peter out and she would be consumed by darkness." In the meantime, Birgitta wishes only to revive her atrophied marriage and to write a winning song for the tacky Eurovision Song Contest; predictable ambitions for a typically understated Mankell character. Instead she is lured onto alien, lethal terrain and subtly transformed into one of Mankell's most convincing crime novel heroines.
“Cements Mankell’s reputation as Sweden's greatest living mystery writer.” —Los Angeles Times
“This novel is epic in its scope and sure to please fans of literary and crime novels.” —USA Today
“Henning Mankell reminds us that there’s a master of Swedish noir still writing.” —The New York Times
“A page-burning new thriller . . . Mankell keeps the suspense at level 11, pulling the reader along a taut wire of political intrigue, historical wrongs, [and] personal drama.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A great mystery that belongs in the company of other knockout masterpieces of moral complexity and atmosphere like Dorothy Sayers’s The Nine Tailors, Robert Goddard’s Beyond Recall, Barbara Vine’s A Dark-Adapted Eye. . . . A brilliant tale of suspense and substance that dedicated mystery readers will want to savor.”—Washington Post
“A terrific police procedural.”—Dallas Morning News
“Mankell’s new book is an original but still chock-a-block with gory crime combined with hints of the late Stieg Larsson’s social concern and John le Carré’s international intrigue.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Absorbing. . . . Suggests the brilliance of Graham Greene . . . Mankell seems capable of just about anything.”—Toronto Star
“The Man from Beijing has the sweep of a John le Carré mystery . . . reaching back through history and across the globe.”—Winnipeg Free Press
“A compelling stand-alone novel . . . Mankell succeeds in transfixing the reader with a masterly balance of character sketches and pell-mell storytelling.”—Wall Street Journal
“Its aim is broad and high, startlingly so: It’s out to shake us up, saying something about the world we’re in, about the nature of our lives at this moment. . . . The Man from Beijing is flavored with the . . . tang of time’s passage itself. . . . Remarkable.”—Philadelphia Inquirer
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The Man from Beijing
By Henning Mankell
KnopfCopyright © 2010 Henning Mankell
All right reserved.
Frozen snow, severe frost. Midwinter.
Early in January 2006 a lone wolf crosses the unmarked border and enters Sweden from Vauldalen in Norway. A man on a snowmobile thinks he might have glimpsed it just outside Fjällnäs, but the wolf vanishes into the trees heading east before he is able to pinpoint it. In the remote Norwegian Österdalarna Mountains it had discovered a lump of frozen moose carcass, with remnants of meat still clinging to the bones. But that was more than two days ago. It is beginning to feel the pain of hunger and is desperately searching for food.
The wolf is a young male that has set out to find a territory of his own. He continues his way eastward. At Nävjarna, north of Linsell, he finds another moose carcass. For a whole day he stays and eats his fill before resuming his trek east. When he comes to Kårböle he trots over the frozen Ljusnan and then follows the river along its winding route toward the sea. One moonless night he lopes silently over the bridge at Järvsö, then heads into the vast forests that stretch to the coast.
In the early morning of January 13 the wolf reaches Hesjövallen, a tiny village south of Hansesjön Lake in Hälsingland. He pauses and sniffs the air. He detects the smell of blood. He looksaround. There are people living in the houses but no smoke rising from the chimneys. His sharp ears can’t detect the slightest sound.
But the wolf is in no doubt about the blood. He skulks at the edge of the forest, nose in the air. Then he moves forward, silently, through the snow. The smell comes from one of the houses at the far end of the hamlet. He is vigilant now—with humans around it’s essential to be both careful and patient. He pauses again. The smell originates from the back of the house. He waits. Then eventually starts moving once more. When he gets there he finds another carcass. He drags his large meal back to the trees. He has not been discovered, not even the village dogs have stirred. The silence is total this freezing cold morning.
The wolf starts eating when he comes to the edge of the trees. It is easy, as the flesh has not yet frozen. He is very hungry now. Having pulled off a leather shoe, he starts gnawing away at an ankle.
It snowed during the night but stopped before dawn. As the wolf eats his fill, snowflakes once again start dancing down toward the frozen ground.
When Karsten Höglin woke up he remembered dreaming about a photograph. He lay motionless in bed and felt the image returning slowly, as if the negative of his dream were sending a copy into his conscious mind. He recognized the picture. It was black and white and depicted a man sitting on an old iron bed, with a hunting rifle hanging on the wall and a chamber pot at his feet. When he saw it for the first time, he had been gripped by the old man’s wistful smile. There was something timorous and evasive about him. Much later Karsten had discovered the background. A few years earlier the man had accidentally shot and killed his only son while hunting seabirds. From then on the rifle had never come down from the wall, and the man had become a hermit.
Höglin thought that of all the thousands of photographs and negatives he had seen, this was the one he would never forget. He wished he had taken it himself.
The clock on his bedside table read half past seven. Höglin usually woke up very early, but he had slept badly that night, the bed and its mattress were uncomfortable. He made up his mind to complain about them when he checked out of the hotel.
It was the ninth and final day of his journey. It had been made possible by a scholarship enabling him to study deserted villages and other small settlements that were being depopulated. He had come as far as Hudiksvall and had one hamlet left to photograph. He had chosen this particular one because an old man who lived there had read about his project and sent him a letter. Höglin had been impressed by the letter and decided that this was the place for him to conclude his study.
He got up and opened the curtains. It had snowed during the night and was still gray, the sun not yet risen. A bundled-up woman was cycling past in the street below. Karsten considered her and wondered how cold it was. Negative five degrees Celsius, possibly negative seven.
He dressed and took the slow-moving elevator down to reception. He had parked his car in the enclosed courtyard behind the hotel. It was safe there. Even so, he had taken all his photographic equipment up to his room, as was his practice. His worst nightmare was to come to his car one day and find that all his cameras had vanished.
The receptionist was a young girl, barely out of her teens. He noticed that her makeup was slapdash and gave up on the idea of complaining about the bed. After all, he had no intention of ever returning to the hotel.
In the breakfast room a few guests were absorbed in their morning papers. For a fleeting moment he was tempted to get a camera and take a shot. It gave him the feeling that Sweden had always been exactly like this. Silent people, poring over their newspapers with a cup of coffee, absorbed in their own thoughts, their own fates.
But he resisted the temptation, served himself coffee, buttered two slices of bread, and tucked into a soft-boiled egg. Without a newspaper, he ate quickly. He hated being at a meal on his own without anything to read.
It was colder than he expected when he emerged from the hotel. He stood on tiptoe to read the thermometer in the reception window. Negative eleven degrees. And falling, he suspected. This winter has been far too warm. Here comes the cold spell we’ve been expecting. He put his cases on the backseat, started the engine, and began scraping ice off the windshield. There was a map on the passenger seat. The previous day, after taking pictures of a village not far from Lake Hassela, he had worked out how to get to his final port of call: take the main road southward, turn off toward Sörforsa near Iggesund, then follow either the east or the west shore of the lake called Storsjön in some parts and Långsjön in others. The guy at the gas station on the way into Hudiksvall had warned him that the east road was bad, but he decided to take it anyway. It would be quicker. And the light was so lovely this winter morning. He could already envisage the smoke rising straight up to the sky from the chimneys.
It took him forty minutes to get there. By then he had already made a wrong turn, a road leading southward to Näcksjö.
Hesjövallen was situated in a little valley by a lake whose name he couldn’t recall. Hesjön, maybe? The dense forests extended all the way to the hamlet, on both sides of the narrow road leading up toward Härjedalen.
Karsten stopped at the edge of the tiny village and got out of the car. There were breaks in the clouds now. The light would become more difficult to capture, perhaps not so expressive. He looked around. Everything was very still. The houses gave the impression of having been there since time immemorial. In the distance he could hear the faint noise of traffic on the main road.
He suddenly felt uneasy. He held his breath, as he always did when confronted with something he didn’t really understand.
Then it dawned on him—the chimneys, they were cold. There was no sign of smoke, which would have been an effective feature of the photographs he hoped to take. His gaze moved slowly from house to house. Somebody’s cleared the snow already, he thought. But not lit a single fire? He remembered the letter he’d received from the man who had told him about the village. He had referred to the chimneys and how the houses seemed, in a childish sort of way, to be sending smoke signals to one another.
He sighed. People don’t write the truth, but what they think you want to read. Now should I take pictures with cold chimneys or abandon the whole business? Nobody was forcing him to take photographs of Hesjövallen and its inhabitants. He already had plenty of pictures of the Sweden that was fading away: the derelict farms, the remote villages whose only hope of survival was that Danes and Germans would buy up the houses and turn them into summer cottages. He decided to leave and returned to his car. But he didn’t start the engine. He had come this far; the least he could do was to try to create some portrait of the local inhabitants—he wanted faces. As the years passed, Karsten Höglin had become increasingly fascinated by elderly people. He wanted to compile an album: pictures that would describe the beauty found only in the faces of very old women, their lives and hardships etched into their skin like the sediment in a cliff wall.
He got out of his car again, pulled his fur hat down over his ears, picked out a Leica M6 he’d been using for the past ten years, and made for the nearest of the group of houses. There were ten in all, most of them timber and painted red, some with added stoops. He could see only one modern house. If it could still be called modern, that is—a 1950s detached house. When he came to the gate, he paused and raised his camera. The nameplate indicated that the Andrén family lived there. He took a few shots, varying the aperture setting and exposure time, trying out several angles, though it was clear that there wasn’t enough light yet and he would get only an indistinct blur. But you never know. Photographers sometimes expose unexpected secrets.
Höglin was intuitive with his work. Not that he didn’t bother to measure light levels when required, but sometimes he’d pull off surprising results without paying attention to carefully calculated exposure times. Improvisation went with the territory.
The gate was stiff. He had to push hard in order to open it. There were no footprints in the newly fallen snow. Still not a sound, not even a dog. It’s deserted, he thought. This isn’t a village; it’s a Flying Dutchman.
He knocked on the front door, waited, then knocked again. Nothing. He began to wonder what was going on. Something was amiss. He knocked again, harder and longer. Then he tried the door handle. Locked. Old people scare easily, he thought. They lock their doors and worry that all the things they read about in the papers are going to happen to them.
He banged on the door. Nothing. He concluded there must not be anybody at home.
He went back through the gate and moved on to the next house. It was starting to get lighter now. The house was painted yellow. The putty around the windows was coming off—it must be very drafty inside. Before knocking he tried the door handle. Locked again. He knocked hard, then began banging away even before anybody could possibly have had time to answer. Once again, empty.
If he went back to his car now, he would be at home in Piteå by early afternoon. That would please his wife. She was convinced that he was too old to be embarking on all these trips, despite the fact that he was only sixty-three. But he had been diagnosed with symptoms of imminent angina. The doctor had advised him to watch what he ate and try to get as much exercise as possible.
One last try. He went around to the back of the house and tried a door that seemed to lead to a utility room behind the kitchen. That was also locked. He went to the nearest window, stood on tiptoe, and looked in. He could see through a gap in the curtains into a room with a television set. He continued to the next window. It was the same room, and he could still see the TV. A tapestry hanging on the wall informed him that jesus is your best friend. He was about to move on to the next window when something on the floor attracted his attention. At first he thought it was a ball of wool just lying there. Then he saw that it was a woolly sock, and that the sock was on a foot. He stepped back from the window. His heart was pounding. Was that really a foot? He went back to the first window, but he couldn’t see as far into the room from there. He went on to the second window. Now he was certain. It really was a foot. A motionless foot. He couldn’t be sure if it was a man’s or a woman’s. The owner of the foot might be sitting in a chair. It was hard to make out—but if so why hadn’t the person stirred?
He knocked on the window as hard as he dared, but there was no response. He took out his cell phone and dialed the emergency number. No signal. He ran to the third house and banged on the door. Nothing. He felt like he was in the middle of a nightmare. He picked up a foot scraper, smashed the door lock, and forced his way in. He had to find a telephone. There was an old woman lying on the kitchen floor. Her head was almost totally severed from her neck. Beside her lay the carcass of a dog, cut in two.
Höglin screamed and turned to flee. As he ran through the hall he saw the body of a man sprawled on the floor of the living room, between the table and a red sofa with a white throw. The old man was naked. His back was covered in blood.
Höglin raced out of the house. He couldn’t get away fast enough. He dropped his camera when he reached the road but didn’t stop to pick it up. He was convinced that somebody or something he couldn’t see was about to stab him in the back. He turned his car and sped away.
He stopped when he reached the main road, then dialed the emergency number, his hands shaking uncontrollably. As he raised the phone to his ear, he felt a sharp pain in his chest. It was as if somebody had caught up with him and stabbed him. He could hear someone speaking to him on the phone, but he was incapable of answering. The pain was so intense that all he could manage
was a faint hiss.
“I can’t hear you,” said a woman’s voice.
He tried again. Once more nothing but a faint hiss. He was dying.
“Can you speak a bit louder?” asked the woman. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
He made a supreme effort and produced a few words.
“I’m dying,” he gasped. “For God’s sake, I’m dying. Help me.”
“Where are you?”
But the woman received no reply. Karsten Höglin was on his way into the endless darkness. In a desperate attempt to escape from the excruciating pain, like a drowning man trying in vain to rise to the surface, he stepped on the gas. The car shot over to the wrong side of the road. A truck on the way to Hudiksvall carrying office furniture had no chance to avoid a head-on collision. The truck driver jumped down from his cab to check on the driver of the car he had crashed into. Höglin was prostrate over the steering wheel.
The truck driver, from Bosnia, spoke little Swedish.
“How is you?” he asked.
“The village,” mumbled Karsten Höglin. “Hesjövallen.”
Those were his final words. By the time the police and the ambulance arrived, Karsten Höglin had succumbed to a massive heart attack.
It was not at all clear what had happened. Nobody could possibly have guessed the reason for the sudden heart attack suffered by the man behind the wheel of the dark blue Volvo. It wasn’t until Karsten Höglin’s body had been taken away and tow trucks were trying to extricate the badly damaged furniture van that a police officer bothered to listen to the Bosnian driver. The officer’s name was Erik Huddén, and he didn’t like talking to people who spoke bad Swedish unless he was forced to. It was as if their stories were less important if they were unable to articulate them properly. Naturally, the officer began with a Breathalyzer. But the driver
was sober, and his driver’s license seemed to be in order.
“He tried saying something,” said the truck driver.
“What?” Huddén asked dismissively.
“Something about Herö. A place, perhaps?”
Huddén was a local, and shook his head impatiently.
“There’s nowhere around here called Herö.”
“Maybe I hear wrong? Maybe it was something with an s? Maybe Hersjö?”
The driver nodded. “Yes, he said that.”
“And what did he mean?”
“I don’t know. He died.”
Huddén put his notebook away. He hadn’t written down what the driver said. Half an hour later, when the tow trucks had driven off and another police car had taken the Bosnian driver to the station for more questioning, Huddén got into his car, ready to return to Hudiksvall. He was accompanied by his colleague Leif Ytterström, who was driving.
“Let’s go via Hesjövallen,” said Huddén out of the blue.
“Why? Has there been an emergency call?”
“I just want to check up on something.”
Erik Huddén was the older of the two officers. He was known for being both uncommunicative and stubborn. Ytterström turned off onto the road to Sörforsa. When they came to Hesjövallen Huddén asked him to drive slowly through the village. He still hadn’t explained to his colleague why they had made this detour.
“It looks deserted,” said Ytterström as they slowly passed house after house.
“Hang on. Go back,” said Huddén. “Slowly.”
Then he told Ytterström to stop. Something lying in the snow by one of the houses had attracted his attention. He got out of the car and went to investigate. He suddenly stopped dead and drew his gun. Ytterström leaped out of the car and drew his own gun.
“What’s going on?”
Huddén didn’t reply. He moved cautiously forward. Then he paused again and bent over as if he had suddenly been afflicted by chest pains. When he came back to the car Erik Huddén was white in the face.
“There’s a dead man lying there,” he said. “He’s been beaten to death.
And there’s something missing.”
“What do you mean?”
“One of his legs.”
They stood staring at each other without speaking. Then Huddén got into the car and picked up the radio and asked for Vivi Sundberg, who he knew was on duty that day. She responded immediately.
“Erik here. I’m out at Hesjövallen.”
“I don’t know. But there’s a man lying dead in the snow.”
“Say that again.”
“A dead man. In the snow. It looks as if he’s been beaten to death. One of his legs is missing.”
They knew each other well. Sundberg knew that Erik Huddén would never exaggerate, no matter how incredible what he said seemed to be.
“We’ll be there,” said Sundberg.
“Get the forensic guys from Gävle.”
“Who’s with you?”
She thought for a moment.
“Is there any plausible explanation for what’s happened?”
“I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
He knew she would understand. He had been a police officer for so long that there was no real limit to the suffering and violence he was forced to face up to.
It was thirty- five minutes before they heard sirens approaching in the distance. Huddén had tried to persuade Ytterström to accompany him to the nearest house so that they could talk to the neighbors, but his colleague refused to move until reinforcements arrived. As Huddén was reluctant to enter the house alone, they stayed by the car. They said nothing while they waited.
Vivi Sundberg got out of the first car to pull up beside them. She was a powerfully built woman in her fifties. Those who knew her were well aware that despite her cumbersome body, she was very mobile and possessed considerable stamina. Only a few months earlier she had chased and caught two burglars in their twenties. They had laughed at her as they started to run off. They were no longer laughing when she arrested the pair of them after a chase of a few hundred yards.
Vivi Sundberg had red hair. Four times a year she visited her daughter’s hair salon and had the redness reinforced.
She was born on a farm just outside of Harmånger and had looked after her parents until they grew old and eventually died. Then she began educating herself, and after a few years applied to the police college. She was amazed to be accepted. Nobody could explain why she had got in, given the size of her body; but nobody asked any questions, and she said nothing.
Vivi Sundberg was a diligent, hardworking police officer. She was persistent, and outstanding when it came to analyzing and following up on the slightest lead.
She ran a hand through her hair and looked hard at Erik Huddén.
“Well, are you going to show me?”
They walked over to the dead body. Sundberg pulled a face and squatted down. “Has the doctor arrived?”
“She’s on her way.”
“Hugo has a sub. He’s going to be operated on. A tumor.”
Vivi Sundberg momentarily lost interest in the body lying in the snow. “Is he ill?”
“He has cancer. Didn’t you know?”
“In his stomach. Apparently it hasn’t spread. Anyway, he has a sub from Uppsala. Valentina Miir’s her name. If I’ve pronounced it right.”
Huddén shouted to Ytterström, who was drinking coffee by one of the cars. He confirmed that the police doctor would be here at any moment. Sundberg started examining the body closely. Every time she was confronted by a corpse, she was overcome by the same feeling of pointlessness. She was unable to awaken the dead, the best she could do was to expose the reasons for the crime and send the killer to a prison cell or to an asylum for the mentally ill.
“Somebody has gone berserk,” she said. “With a long knife. Or a bayonet. Possibly a sword. I can see at least ten wounds, nearly all of them potentially fatal. But I don’t understand the missing leg. Do we know who the man is?”
“Not yet. All the houses appear to be empty.”
Sundberg stood up and looked around the village. The houses seemed to return her attentive gaze.
“Have you been knocking on doors?”
“I thought I should wait. Whoever did this might still be around.”
She beckoned to Ytterström, who threw his empty cardboard mug into the snow.
“Let’s go in,” she said. “There must be people around. This isn’t a ghost town.”
“There’s been no sign of anybody.”
Sundberg looked again at the houses, the snowed- over gardens, the road. She drew her pistol and set off toward the nearest house; the two men followed. It was a few minutes past eleven.
What the three police officers discovered was unprecedented in the annals of Swedish crime and would become a part of Swedish legal history. There were bodies in every house. Dogs and cats had been stabbed to death, even a parrot had had its head cut off. They found a total of nineteen dead people, all of them elderly except for a boy whomust have been about twelve. Some had been killed while asleep in bed; others were lying on the floor or sitting on chairs at the kitchen table. An old woman had died with a comb in her hand, a man by a stove with an overturned coffeepot by his side. In one house they found two people locked in an embrace and tied together. All had been subjected to frenzied violence. It was as if a blood-laden hurricane had stormed through the village just as the old people who lived there were getting up. As the elderly in the country tend to rise early, Sundberg assumed the murders had taken place close to sunrise.
Vivi Sundberg felt as if her whole head were being submerged in blood. She shook off her outrage, but felt very cold. It was as if she were viewing the dead disfigured bodies through a telescope, which meant that she didn’t need to approach too closely.
And then there was the smell. Although the bodies had barely turned cold, they were already giving off a smell that was both sweet and sour. While inside the houses, Sundberg tried to breathe through her mouth. The moment she stepped outside, she filled her lungs with fresh air. Crossing the threshold of the next house was like preparing to face something
Everything she saw, one body after another, bore witness to the same frenzy and the same wounds caused by a very sharp weapon. The list she made later that day, which she never revealed to anybody, comprised brief notes on exactly what she had seen:
House number one. Dead elderly man, half naked, ragged pajamas, slippers, half lying on the staircase. Head almost severed from body, the thumb of the left hand three feet away. Dead elderly woman, nightgown, stomach split open, intestines hanging out, false teeth smashed to pieces.
House number two. Dead man and dead woman, both at least eighty. Bodies found in a double bed on the first floor. The woman might have been killed in her sleep with a slash from her left shoulder and through her breast toward her right hip. The man tried to defend himself with a hammer, but one arm severed, throat cut. Remarkably, the bodies have been tied together. Gives the impression that the man was alive when bound but the woman dead. No proof, of course, just an immediate reaction. Young boy dead in a small bedroom. Might have been asleep when killed.
House number three. Lone woman, dead on the kitchen floor. A dog of unknown pedigree stabbed to death by her side. The woman’s spine appears to be broken in more than one place.
House number four. Man dead in the hall. Wearing pants, shirt; barefoot. Probably tried to resist. Body almost cut in two through the stomach. Elderly woman sitting dead in the kitchen. Two, possibly three wounds in the top of her head.
House number seven. Two elderly women and an elderly man dead in their beds upstairs. Impression: they were awake, conscious, but had no time to react. Cat stabbed to death in the kitchen.
House number eight. Elderly man lying dead outside, one leg missing. Two dogs beheaded. Woman dead on the stairs, hacked to pieces.
House number nine. Four people dead in the living room on the first floor. Half dressed, with cups of coffee, radio on, station one. Three elderly women, an elderly man. All with their heads on their knees.
House number ten. Two very old people, a man and a woman, dead in their beds. Impossible to say if they were aware of what was happening.
Toward the end of her list she no longer had the mental strength to record all the details. Nevertheless, what she had seen was unforgettable, a vision of hell itself.
She numbered the houses according to the discovery of the bodies. That was not the same order as their locations along the road. When they came to the fifth house during their macabre inspection, they found signs of life. They could hear music coming from inside the house. Ytterström thought it sounded like Jimi Hendrix.
Before going inside they called in two other officers as backup. They approached the front door—pistols drawn. Huddén banged hard on it. It was opened by a half- naked, long- haired man. He drew back in horror on seeing all the guns. Vivi Sundberg lowered her pistol when she saw he was unarmed.
“Are you alone in the house?”
“My wife’s here as well,” said the man, his voice shaking.
“No. What’s going on?”
Sundberg holstered her pistol and gestured to the others to do the same.
“Let’s go inside,” she said to the half- naked man, who was shivering with cold. “What’s your name?”
“Come on, Tom Hansson, let’s go inside. Out of the cold.”
The music was at full volume. Sundberg had the impression there were speakers in every room. She followed the man into a cluttered living room, where a woman in a nightdress was curled up on a sofa. He turned down the music and put on a pair of pants that had been hanging over a chair back. Hansson and the woman on the sofa were about sixty.
“What’s happened?” asked the woman, who, clearly scared, spoke with a broad Stockholm accent. Probably they were hippies left over from the sixties. Sundberg decided not to beat about the bush; there was no time to waste—it was possible that whoever had been responsible for this outrage might be on the way to carry out another massacre.
“Many of your neighbors are dead,” Sundberg said. “Horrendous crimes have taken place in this little village overnight. It’s important that you answer our questions. What’s your name?”
“Ninni,” said the woman. “Are Herman and Hilda dead?”
“Where do they live?”
“In the house to the left.”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. They’ve been murdered. But they’re not the only ones.”
“If this is your idea of a joke, it’s not a very good one,” said Tom Hansson.
Sundberg lost her composure briefly.
“I’m sorry, but we only have time for you to answer my questions. I can understand that you think what I’m telling you seems incredible, but it’s true— horrific, but true. Did you hear anything last night?”
The man sat down on the sofa beside the woman.
“We were asleep.”
“Did you hear anything this morning?”
They both shook their heads.
“Haven’t you even noticed that the place is crawling with police officers?”
“When we play music loudly, we don’t hear anything.”
“When did you last see your neighbors?”
“If you mean Herman and Hilda, yesterday,” said Ninni. “We usually
run into each other when we go out with the dogs.”
“Do you have a dog?”
Tom Hansson nodded in the direction of the kitchen.
“He’s pretty old and lazy. He doesn’t even bother to get up when we have visitors.”
“Didn’t he bark during the night?”
“He never barks.”
“What time did you see your neighbors?”
“At about three o’clock yesterday afternoon. But only Hilda.”
“Did everything seem to be as usual?”
“She had back pains. Herman was probably in the kitchen, solving crosswords. I didn’t see him.”
“What about the rest of the people in the village?”
“Everything was the same as it always is. Only old people live here. They stay indoors when it’s cold. We see them more often in spring and summer.”
“There aren’t any children here, then?”
“None at all.”
Sundberg paused, thinking about the dead boy.
“Is it really true?” asked the woman on the sofa. She was frightened.
“Yes,” Sundberg said. “It could well be that everybody in this village is dead. Apart from you.”
Huddén was standing by the window.
“Not quite everybody,” he said slowly.
“What do you mean?”
“Not quite everybody’s dead. There’s somebody out there on the road.”
Sundberg hurried over to the window and saw a woman standing in the road outside. She was old, wearing a bathrobe and black rubber boots. Her hands were clasped in prayer.
Sundberg held her breath. The woman was motionless.
Excerpted from The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell Copyright © 2010 by Henning Mankell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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I cannot believe that, at my age, it took me so long to read a book by Henning Mankell.I am glad that The Man From Beijing was the first. I love to read books with mystery and suspense. More than anything, though, I like a story whose plot and characters keep me interested. I would not call this book a mystery. We know early on who is behind the mass murder in a small Swedish village. The story's suspense, though, did not keep me on the edge of my seat. It kept my nose in the book. In all, I found the characters interesting and the storytelling outstanding. Like me, you will be happy you read this book.
Mankell is a master, and those readers that like his writing will see his control and skill displayed here. But Mankell reaches a little for the premise in this mystery. It could be an interesting prod to inventiveness in a writing class: include China in your next writing assignment. This mystery becomes a little unwieldy and farfetched when it goes back over several continents and several generations in Part 2, but Mankell comes back in Part 3 to something much more interesting: a discussion of the economic and political changes taking place in a rapidly modernizing China, and a slowly deteriorating Africa. Especially interesting are ruminations on China in Africa. If readers remember Le Carre's last couple of books set in Africa, The Mission Song and The Constant Gardner, this a polemic similar, but comes off a little better. Anyhow, some comfort reading for those who are going to read Mankell regardless. Scandanavia still seems cold and remote, Beijing fast and flashy, Africa hot but beautiful.
I have been disapointed in Mr. Mankell's last two books - SHADOW OF THE LEOPARD - and THE MAN FROM BEIJING. I had a hard time pulling this split story together. Interesting enough, but it took him way too long to connect the plot.
In January 2006 in Sweden, the police arrive at Hesjovallen to find a battered corpse on the outskirts of the jarringly silent village. Eighteen more severely destroyed bodies are found inside homes; not one living person remains inside the hamlet with no clues where they went. Dissonantly from the brutal scene is a red ribbon and a nineteenth century diary written by Andren as a gang master of Chinese slaves working the transcontinental railway found in the snow near the first body the cops saw. Judge Birgitta Roslin reads about the worst mass murder massacre in Swedish history. She is stunned that her Andren grandparents are among the dead; but even more shocking the branch of the Andren family living in Nevada were also brutally murdered. She feels compelled to learn what happened in Hesjovallen and Nevada. The clues from the diary already take her back to the American Civil War and China then and now; as well Zimbabwe and Mozambique. However, all roads eventually lead to London's Chinatown. Although Wallander takes a deserved respite, fans of Henning Mankell will fully appreciate this super thriller that focuses on modern day global issues with links back to the middle of the nineteenth century. The story line is fast-paced driven predominately by Birgitta as she disagrees with the police conclusion that a lunatic committed the mass murders. She thinks a deliberate intelligent person on a vendetta killed those whose blood caused generational blood flow of his or her family. The Man from Beijing is a one sitting winner. Harriet Klausner
I found this book to be a fascinating and intriguing mystery. It is certainly global in its outreach, as the pages take the reader from Sweden to China, the United States, and even Zimbabwe. The obvious plot line of this book relates to the solving of the mytery of the mass murders in a quiet village in Sweden. In my opinion, a more intriguing plot development involves the personal life of Judge Birgitta Roslin. The Judge finds herself embroiled in the murder investigation while also dealing with major issues in her personal life. She must try to resolve personal health issues as well as the seemingly deteriorating condition of her longterm marriage. Other topics I found of interest were the social adjustment to the aging process, re-awakening old friendships, and evaluating one's philosophical and political ideals as the currents of life stream past. This was most definitely a compelling read. Mystery and thriller lovers will delight in this story.
I have loved other titles by this author but was sorely disappointed with this one. Starts off well, and the early sections are vintage Mankell. Unfortunately, the book loses its way in Beijing and Africa. Big let-down, overall - Id stick with others from Mankell, especially the Kurt Wallander series.
I'm not sure where Henning Mankell got the idea for this book, but he should have thrown it away. The story is ostensibly about a revenge killing that pulls a Swedish judge into the aftermath. It is, in reality, a lengthy tome of half-baked and fanciful political analysis about the future of China and China in Africa. Very boring and fanciful. Mankell apparently fancies himself quite the political analyst and historian. He is neither. Do not waste your money on this book. The Wallendar novels are excellent, but I'll not buy another book by Mankell outside that series.
A far-fetched plot hampered by simplistic examinations of: Maoism, China, globalization, post-colonial Afica. It also doesn't help all that much to present the problems facing a "new" China while relying on a stereotypically sinister "oriental" villian as the main antagonist. A weak effort.
Takes a while to get into this book, but well worth the wait. It's far better if you've read Mankell before, but not important. 'The Man from Beijing' sees Henning Mankell move away from his Kurt Wallander Swedish police procedural novels to produce a fast paced and international political mystery. Worth the money on the jacket.
This is a different kind of mystery. It combines world economics, murder, justice, madness, suspense, and intrique all in one riveting tale. From the first few pages where Mankell pulls you into a mass murder through the travels of a wolf - you are hooked. In addition, Mankell also gives you a more sympathetic understanding of the troubles of developing countries like Africa and a different perspective of how these countries work with countries like China without sacrificing the suspense. I enjoyed both of Steig Larson books and this led me to read Mankell's book. Mankell's book is far more satisfying. Anyhow, the book is great and I would recommend it.
The brutal murder of most all the residence of a small village in Sweden starts the reader on a saga that will circle the glob and cover over 150 years. It will tell of the treatment of Chinese workers on the Trans Continental Railroad, through a plot by members in the highest levels of the Republic of China government to wil control of large portions of Africa as a way to deal with its population expolsion and unrest. The writer has melled all these factors into a story that will keep the reader turing pages to the very end.
On page 328 of THE MAN FROM BEIJING, Henning Mankell writes, as part of a conversation, "We are still embroiled in a large-scale investigation with lots of complicated details." This pretty much describes the book. It starts with the murders of 18 elderly people and 1 child in a hamlet in Sweden in 2006. By the time the story ends, the reader has been to China in 1863, Nevada during the building of the transcontinental railroad, back to China still in the 19th century but then slips into 2006, back to modern day Sweden, then back to China, and, finally, returning to Sweden after a momentous sidetrip to Africa and a significant pause in London. Mankell writes so well that the reader can actually keep all of this straight. When all is said and done, THE MAN FROM BEIJING is not about international travel or politics (although Mankell writes reams about the politics and economics of China). It is about two families and the collision of their lives in 19th century Nevada. Two brothers from China, San and Guo Si, are worked mercilessly by the Swedish supervisor of their crew, Jan August Andren. When San returns to China he begins to write every detail of his life. He doesn't know if he will ever have someone in his family who will want to read it but he continues his task for the rest of his life. In Sweden, Birgitta Roslin, a judge, learns that she is related to the Andren family, brutally killed in their homes. Birgitta is drawn to the murder scene and, as a judge, is given considerable latitude at the crime scene. In the house, she finds an old journal written by JA Andren and outside, in the snow, she finds a red ribbon. Birgitta chooses to eat in a Chinese restaurant and she notices that the red ribbon hanging from a lantern over her table is an exact match to the ribbon from the crime scene. In fact, a red ribbon is missing from a lantern over another table. In present day China, Ya Ru, highly successful and a major player in moving China to capitalism, has been studying the journal of his ancestor, San. Thus begins the dueling recollections of the ancestors and, assisted by an inordinate number of coincidences, Birgitta and Ya Ru move toward a confrontation. This is not a Wallender book. It is entertaining and worth reading as long as the reader doesn't expect everything to make sense. Sometimes, major issues are resolved so smoothly that I almost missed them. Mankell offers up plenty of information about the characters but I didn't find myself caring very much about any of them. Birgitta is the main character but Hong Qiu, an important figure in China, is more interesting. Read and enjoy the book for what it is, an quick and somewhat engrossing stand-alone by Henning Mankell. Mankell is always a great writer. But don't expect this to be on the same level as the Kurt Wallender series.
The protagonist is an older lady, so probably less relatable to most reviewers. I liked her--she's around my age and really gets around! A very interesting story...
Being of Swedish descent, I was intrigued by hearing of another Swedish mystery writer. The book was recommended to me by someone. Since I had read all of the Larsson novels, I was ready to try a new one. It is a great book. The story line is a real "grabber". I will read more of Mankell's novels.
If you like this author, one of the better ones
I don't usually read murder mysteries, but since this was recommended by my book club I decided to read it. Especially intriguing was the nationality of the writer. I found that his insights and writing style was especially interesting. The twists and turns that the book took consistently kept me interested. Since the main character was a female judge, this added to the plot. There was a lot of history of this family that was explored, and tended to give a broader perspective to the reasons for the murders. From an American reader's stand point, I felt that I had been given an introduction as to how another nationality would view the crime.
A great story spanning decades - couldn't put it down!