Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell

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Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A departure for Mankell, both from the style of the Wallandar novels and the clinical precision of Depths, this book reflects the author's anger about what is happening in Africa. A compelling and emotional read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Harvill Secker
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846550300

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Louise Cantor is an archaeologist working in Greece. She returns to Stockholm to visit her son and finds him dead in bed. The police say that it was suicide but there are small discrepancies in the flat which tell Louise that Henrik was murdered. As she delves into the circumstances of Henrik's life she finds that there was a great deal which she didn't know about him. The first shock is that he was HIV-positive. His Stockholm flat wasn't his only home and the soles of his shoes suggested that he'd been travelling somewhere where there was red dust. He was obsessed too with the conspiracy theory about what happened to the late President Kennedy's brain before his autopsy. Parts of his brain - and evidence about the entry and exit wounds - simply disappeared. Louise can't rest, won't rest until she finds out what happened to Henrik.

It's not many months since I read Depths and apart from the fact that there's a nod to that novel in that Louise Cantor is a descendant of Sara Fredrika, the heroine of Depths, you could be forgiven for doubting that the books were written by the same author. Depths was written with cold, clinical precision. Kennedy's Brain is the product of burning anger.

When not in Sweden Mankell spends much of his time in Maputo where he's worked extensively with Aids charities. The background to this book is something which Mankell knows and understands - it's not the product of research. You won't just read of the oppressive heat, the poverty, corruption and illness. You will smell it. When you start to wonder quite how Aids got such a hold in Africa you will understand the reason for Mankell's anger. The experimentation, on humans and animals, to find a cure for the disease will leave you sickened to the core.

I couldn't help but want Louise Cantor to succeed. She's a compelling character, who drinks rather too much and gets herself into situations which had me on the metaphorical edge of my seat, but I still needed to know what happened to Henrik - and then to Aron, the ex-husband who also disappears whilst he's helping Louise to find out what happened.

I did feel that the story was manipulated around a cause which Mankell wished to push, but that's not necessarily a bad thing as it means that there is genuine knowledge and emotion behind the book. There's very little sense of research having been done and a great deal of feeling that this has all come from experience. There's a strong hint in the epilogue that although Mankell has not approached what is happening in Africa as would a journalist, he may well have reached the same conclusion: '... the borderline between what has really happened and what might well have happened is often almost non-existent'. If that is true then this is one of the most frightening books that I have read in a long time.

Translation of the novel from the original Swedish has been done by Laurie Thompson, who was also the translator for Depths and several of the Wallander novels. I'm not able to compare the result with the original Swedish, but the text reads as faultlessly as ever.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then you might also enjoy The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson.

Buy Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell at Amazon.com.

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Brian Hannigan said:

This was possibly the worst novel I ever read. I picked it up in the Amsterdam airport en route back to the U.S. after a trip to Africa, hopeful for an entertaining African-themed novel that would also give me some insight into the continent.

What a disappointment! I of course can't say how Mankell reads in his native Swedish, but in English, much of his prose is flat and plodding. The characters are poorly developed. The plot line is confusing and also ill-developed. If I hadn't spent about 10 Euros on it, I would have abandoned it halfway across the Atlantic. As it was, I stuck with it through the end, hoping that Mankell would somehow redeem himself by tying at least some of the loose ends together in a coherent way. But such was not to be.

It honestly ranks as one of the biggest wastes of time in my rather mature life!

Brian Hannigan Arlington, Virginia, USA