The Return of the Dancing Master, by Henning Mankell

Other crime books by Henning Mankell

(Crime fiction books not featuring Wallander)

  • Danslärarens återkomst (2000), The Return of the Dancing Master, 2004
  • Kennedys hjärna (2007) Kennedy's Brain, 2007
  • Kinesen (2007) The Man from Beijing, 2010

The Return of the Dancing Master by Mankell, very well translated by Laurie Thompson, is an extremely well written and suspenseful crime fiction book. Mankell is a master crime writer, and in this book he really shows it.

A retired policeman, Herbert Molin, is found brutally tortured and slaughtered in his home in Sveg, far north in Sweden. The police find strange footprints in The Return of the Dancing Master, by Henning Mankell blood in the living room. They indicate that somebody has been practicing the tango - the favorite dance of the victim - with the body.

One of Molin’s former colleagues from Borås, Stefan Lindman, a young police officer who has been diagnosed with mouth cancer and has some free time on his hands, decides to investigate the murder, and travels up to Sveg. It turns out to be a very strange case. There are no witnesses and no apparent motive. Neither do the police have any technical evidence. All they know is that somebody have attacked Molin’s house with tear gas, forced him out of the house, captured him, and killed him slowly and painfully. Somewhere, there must be a strong motive.

In Sveg, Lindman soon meets Giuseppe Larsson, who is in charge of the investigation. Eventually they discover that Molin left Sweden during WW2 to join with Hitler's SS troops and harbored strong Nazi sentiments. There are strong reasons to believe that the murder has its explanation in Molin’s strange past, and that it may be an act of revenge.

Mankell also lets us meet the murderer - Aron Silberstein, a German Jew now living in Argentina. He has indeed killed Molin for revenge, but exactly why we do not learn until the end of the book.

Gradually the investigation uncovers a large network of neo-Nazis in Sweden. They seem to belong to an organization called the Strong Sweden Foundation. More and more plot revolves around the secret world of Nazis, both past and present.

The Return of the Dancing Master is a dark and intense book. It is a wonderful read. But even so, Mankell has written book with a sloppy plot, full of really improbable events – one after another. How likely is Lindman’s finding of the murderer's camp? Or the murderer’s return to find the second murderer? Or Lindman’s find of Molin’s diary? And so on. Really, this is a thinly plotted book, where Mankell uses one unlikely twist after the other to move the investigation forward. However, because Henning Mankell is such a hugely talented writer he gets away with it, because he can spin a yarn and tell a tale in a way the entertains and fascinates. So even though I view the plot as bad, I do not hesitate to recommend The Return of the Dancing Master. It is, simply, a great book!

The Man from Beijing, by Henning Mankell

See also our reviews of Wallander-movies on DVD based on Mankell's books!

The Man from Beijing is a large-scale, global thriller. It describes and links events across time and space. A mass murder in Sweden in 2006. Chinese railroad workers in America in the 1860’s. Chinese neo-colonialism in Africa. It is all here, along with other dots in time and space. And the dots The Man from Beijing, by Henning Mankellare very properly connected in Mankell’s grandiose plot.

Henning Mankell, the author of the internationally renowned crime fiction series about Detective Kurt Wallander, recently featured on TV both in England and in the US in a BBC television series starring Kenneth Branagh as Wallander, is an exceptional writer. He has sold more than 30 million books in 39 languages. In this book, he is seemingly guided by an analysis of the future world role of the Chinese.

This is an electrifying stand-alone thriller that takes off into a sweeping international drama. It starts in January 2006. In the Swedish hamlet of Hesjövallen. First a savagely murdered man is found lying in the snow. As they begin their investigation the police notice that the village seems eerily quiet and deserted. Going from house to house, looking for witnesses, they uncover a crime unprecedented in Swedish history. Nineteen people have been massacred. In Sweden!

The only clues are a red ribbon and an old, nineteenth-century diary found at the scene. Judge Birgitta Roslin has particular reason to be shocked: her grandparents, the Andréns, are among the victims. The police insist that only a lunatic could have committed the murders.

But when Birgitta discovers the diary of another Andrén—a gang master on the American transcontinental railway in the nineteenth century—that describes the cruel treatment of Chinese slave-workers, she is determined to uncover what she suspects is a more complicated truth.

The investigation leads to modern-day Beijing and its highest echelons of power, to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. But the narrative also takes us back 150 years, into a history that will ensnare Birgitta as she draws ever closer to solving the Hesjövallen murders. Birgitta uncovers an international web of corruption and a story of vengeance that stretches back over a hundred years, linking China and the USA of the 1860s with modern-day Beijing, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and coming to a shocking climax in London's Chinatown.

The Man from Beijing is masterfully written. Mankell skillfully links together events and people into a coherent tale – a tale of something which could possibly have happened. And the book is very suspenseful and mostly moves fast. Here and there, however, Mankell breaks the pace a little because he has something he wants to tell. Even so, The Man from Beijing shows Henning Mankell at the height of his powers, handling a broad historical canvas and pressing international issues with his exceptional gifts for insight and chilling suspense.

I loved reading the book (in Swedish). I have not seen the translated version yet, so I don’t know anything about the quality of it in this case. In Swedish, the language was excellent, and it was clear that this was a tale Mankell was happy to tell. The images and symbolism are great and intelligent. There is a lot of tension and nerve in the book, and it is very exciting to read. To my mind, this is one of the best Mankell books of the last decade.

The Man from Beijing is a perceptive political thriller and a compelling detective story.

Praise for The Man from Beijing:

"Mankell's best thriller in fifteen years." — Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden)

"The book of the year. Whether you read it as a suspense novel, a thriller, or as a comment on the world today, it is fascinating." — Kulturspeilet (Norway)

"There is no doubt that Mankell with this blockbuster of a thriller has written one of his best books. Suspense until the last page, audacious storytelling, and two female main characters presented with care and compassion." — Dagsavisen (Norway)

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