I finished The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell on Sunday, which means it took me a week to read. It is quite a long book which is rich in detail and broad in canvas, if that isn't a contradiction in terms. I enjoyed it very much as a good story and as an analysis of the Chinese and Swedish judicial and socio-political-economic systems, described in a fascinating (not at all boring) way. I found only one section (the historical one) relatively weak. My review is now written and submitted to Euro Crime.
Since then I've read two more books, both obviously a lot briefer than this one: Rupture (aka A Thousand Cuts – a better title) by Simon Lelic and The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri. Both these books are marvellous in very different ways. I thought I might share some extracts from this latest novel by the supreme Camilleri, aided and abetted by his magnificent translator, poet Stephen Sartarelli.
Ever since television had come into the home, everyone had become accustomed to eating bread and corpses. From noon to one o'clock, and from seven to eight-thirty in the evening – that is, when people were at table – there wasn't a single television station that wasn't broadcasting images of bodies torn apart, mangled, burnt, or tortured, men, women, old folks, and little children, imaginatively and ingeniously slaughtered in one part of the world or another.
Not a day went by without there being, in one part of the world or another, a war to broadcast to one and all. And so one saw people dying of hunger, who haven't got a cent to buy a loaf of bread, shooting at other people likewise dying of hunger, with bazookas, Kalashnikovs, missiles, bombs, all ultra-modern weapons costing far more than medicine and food for everyone would have cost.
I can't write the concluding paragraph to this passage, it is too distressing a form of black humour for me. But the passage is a good explanation of why I for one don't watch TV and haven't for years. Here's another extract, funnier and no less true:
In the station's parking lot he pulled up alongside a Ferrari. Who did it belong to? Surely to a cretin, whatever the actual name written on the registration.
For only a cretin could tool around town in a car like that. Then there was the second category, the imbeciles, closely related to the cretins with Ferraris, made up of people who, to go shopping, needed to climb into an SUV with four-wheel drive, fourteen lamps between headlights, road lights and fog lights, shovels and pickaxes, emergency ladder, compass, and special windshield wipers for eventual sandstorms. And what about the latest maniacs, the ones with Hummers?
"Ahh Chief!" Catarella exclaimed. "There's summon 'ere waitin' for yiz since nine 'cause he wants a talk to ya poisonally in poisson."
"Does he have an appointment?"
"No sir. But 'e says iss important. 'Is name is…." He stopped and looked down at a scrap of paper. " 'E writ it down for me 'ere. 'Is name is De Dodo."
Was it possible? Like the extinct flightless bird?
"You sure that's his name, Cat?"
"Cross my heart, Chief."
Naturally, the fortyish man who came into his office had a different name from the one written down and cited by Catarella: Francesco Di Noto. Decked out in Armani, top-of-the-line loafers worn without socks, Rolex, shirt open to a golden crucifix suffocating in a forest of unkempt, rampant black hair.
He was surely the idiot tooling around in the Ferrari. But the inspector wanted confirmation.
"My compliments on your beautiful car."
"Thanks. It's a 360 Modena. I've also got a Porshe Carrera."
Double cretin with fireworks.