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'Man From Beijing' Takes Mystery Fans Across Globe

Feb 18, 2010 (Morning Edition)

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Many fans of murder mysteries already know about Swedish author Henning Mankell. He writes the Kurt Wallander books, which PBS made into a television series.

Now, Mankell has a new book, The Man from Beijing, which takes readers on an international journey from Sweden to China to Africa.

The book opens with the discovery of a brutal murder in a small village in Sweden. In fact, almost the entire town has been killed, and in a most gruesome way. But the detective this time is not Kurt Wallander — it's a woman, a judge by the name of Birgitta Roslin. And she's one of several women who make up the main cast of characters in this novel.

"My father was a judge — when I wrote The Man from Beijing, I decided to use my knowledge about, well, the knowledge of a judge. But to distance myself from my father, I chose to make a female judge," Mankell told NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

As Birgitta Roslin gets involved in the investigation, she finds that members of her own family are among the murdered.

The plot only grows more complicated from there. And as the title suggests, a good portion of the book has roots in China. Mankell drew inspiration for this storyline from his own life. He spends part of the year in Mozambique, in southern Africa, where China's influence has increased greatly over the past decade. For Mankell, that's been both good and bad.

"I see a good presence of the Chinese — how they offer willingly to help with building infrastructures. But the other side of the coin is that I can also see some tendencies of a sort of colonial idea," he says. "So I would say that I'm building my novel on facts and on real worries."

So what's next for Mankell? He said that English-speaking fans should be on the lookout for a yet-to-be translated Wallander book, due to be published in 2011. And he's working on another book, one that goes in a completely different direction.

"It's going to be a Swedish woman that goes to Africa, and all of a sudden finds herself as an owner of a brothel," Mankell explains. "But more than that, I can't say. It's a good start of a story, don't you think?"

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