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Kennedy's Brain: A Novel Hardcover – September 30, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Mankell's engaging but overly polemical stand-alone crime novel, Louise Cantor, an archeologist working in Greece, returns home to Sweden to discover her grown son, Henrik, lying dead in his own bed. Cantor, who refuses to accept the police theory that Henrik killed himself, launches her own investigation. (The book's title refers to one of the mysteries surrounding the JFK assassination, which had become a bizarre metaphor for the secretive Henrik.) In her quest for answers, Cantor journeys to Australia in search of her estranged husband; to Barcelona, where Henrik had an apartment and a surprisingly large bank account; and to Maputo, Mozambique, where she learns of the devastation wrought by poverty, AIDS and greed. Mankell, author of the wonderful Kurt Wallender series (Faceless Killers, etc.), is a deft and imaginative plotter and an insightful observer of the human condition, but here his righteous anger over the AIDS crisis in Africa and the exploitative role of the pharmaceutical industry overshadows the mystery solving. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Driven by the memory of seeing an African man die of AIDS, Mankell sets aside his Kurt Wallander series to deliver a scathing indictment of how drug companies exploit, and Western nations ignore, that continent's mounting medical horrors. There's nothing metaphorical about the core subject, but Mankell tempers his stridency by wrapping it inside a moving tale of loss. Swedish archaeologist Louise Cantor returns from the Greek dig site she oversees to find her son, Henrik, an apparent suicide. As unreasonable in her grief as any parent who loses a child, Cantor at first refuses to accept even the fact of his death and then sets out to prove he was murdered. The clues are scant—he's found in pajamas when he always slept nude; his computer is missing—but a mother sometimes intuits more than the best police investigator can. As she puzzles over Henrik's seeming obsession with the postautopsy disappearance of JFK's brain—a harbinger of high-level conspiracies and cover-ups—and retraces her son's work with African AIDS patients, Cantor thinks in terms of reassembling pottery shards. But there may be vase breakers afoot willing to do anything to keep her from unearthing the truth. Meanwhile, a question keeps arising: Why is it that "we know all about how Africans die, but hardly anything about how they live?" This is a bracing, worthwhile read. Sennett, Frank

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The; First Edition edition (September 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595581847
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595581846
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #740,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Robert A. Johnson on December 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
What's going on here? I give five stars to all the Kurt Wallander novels that have been translated into English, except "The Dogs Of Riga," which bogs down and is, overall, a little tedious. "Kennedy's Brain" proved to be disappointing. The book posits a medical conspiracy which is intent on testing all manner of dubious and/or unapproved AIDS drugs on both healthy and dying Africans. The conspirators seem to have killed everyone around the book's heroine, Louise Cantor, but, for some baffling reason, they leave her alone: Louise's ex-husband, Aron, is killed, two Africans Louise befriends are killed (even though they will shortly be dead from AIDS), and Louise's son, Henrik, is killed. Or maybe not. But Louise is more dangerous to the conspiracy than most of these individuals. After 326 pages, we learn very little about this globe-spanning, destroy-everything-in-its-path conspiracy. Is it run by one (!?!) man, Christian Holloway, who appears to be working alone? And what has John F. Kennedy's brain got to do with anything? Some kind of metaphor? I still look forward to Mr. Mankell's future novels about Kurt Wallander and his daughter, but I might also note that the translator, Laurie Thompson, has done a sloppy job in "Kennedy's Brain." In a number of places, words and sentences don't seem to make sense in context. In the final analysis, "Kennedy's Brain" only tells a story on the periphery of the story I wish it had told.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Cory D. Slipman on September 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Accomplished master of the police procedural Henning Mankell strays from this genre in his latest novel, "Kennedy's Brain". In his novel, Mankell in the guise of a mystery, has penned what is in reality a social commentary. Mankell who resides at least partially in Mozambique, takes aim at the plight of the African underprivileged particularly relating to the AIDS epidemic and it's exploitation by the pharmaceutical companies.

Swedish archaeologist Louise Cantor whose specialty is ancient Greek artifracts is leading an expedition in Greece sponsored by Uppsala university. She happily anticipates taking a break to return to Stockholm and visit her son Henrik. Much to her shock and dismay she arrives at his flat, unable to raise him on the phone, to find him lying dead in bed. She is stunned to learn that an autopsy confirms that he overdosed on barbiturates.

Unable to believe that Henrik would take his own life she commences her own investigation. She travels across the world to a remote area of Australia to recruit her estranged husband Aron and inform him of their son's death. Together they go through his papers that direct them to an apartment their son kept in Barcelona. Hacking into his computer they discover that he was HIV positive and that he had business that took him to Mozambique.

Louise Cantor proceeds to Africa after the mysterious disappearance of her ex husband. While there she is confronted by danger and the horrors of a village designed to care for AIDS victims where Henrik had worked. She discovers that there is quite a bit more going on there than administering to the sick.

Mankell paints a graphic picture of the misery endured by the suffering in Africa while being critical of those who opportunistically use them for financial gain. The plot of "Kennedy's Brain", metaphor for an inexplicable and secretive mystery is very much similar to Le Carre's "The Constant Gardener".
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. C. on October 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
While I have read a few other Mankell books and have been modestly entertained I would suggest giving this one a miss as the ending is very weak!

The reader is left hanging with the question, "What is the follow up book titled??" I understood all the inuendo "AIDs conspiracy" and all that but after 326 pages of the mother seemingly roaming the world with endless financial resources (archeology must pay well??) (sorry her ex decided for no apparent reason to conveniently travel with a large bundle of cash) and no apparent need for visas etc. as well as putting herself into ridiculously dangerous situations she never solves the mystery but darned if she doesn't feel good about herself and resolves to continue with her quest!!

Good for her but bad for the reader. Yawn.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Peter Model on February 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
Mankell may have a deep interest in Mozambique and AIDS, but nonetheless, this was a very sloppily written book. In addition to the plot deficiencies noted by earlier reviewers, the main character, Louise, is poorly developed. One minute she's fearlessly (thoughtlessly?) marching into potentially dangerous situations, and the next she freaks out over nothing. Despite the frequently repeated archeological metaphor about putting the pieces of a clay pot back together, she doesn't analyze the information she obtains and then plan a course of action - her progress occurs via 'feelings' and 'intuitions'. To cap it off, she's always staying in expensive hotels - believe me, this is not convincing behavior for an academic.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Laura D on November 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have much enjoyed reading Henning Mankell's Inspector Wallender books but this one is rather different. The story does involve the unravelling of a mystery but it is not the police procedural type.

Louise Cantor is the heroine who starts out on an unexpected trail when she finds her son is dead, apparently by suicide. Louise is an archaeologist and the parts of the plot she uncovers are likened to unearthing parts of a Grecian urn that need to be reassembled to see the whole.

The trail leads from Greece to Stockholm to Spain, Australia and then Mozambique. The disturbing element of this book is that based on the reality of the AIDS epidemic in Africa and the West's seeming reluctance to assist.

As a story it is enjoyable but I didn't think it compared to the Wallender books. As an insight into the author I found it very interesting as Mankell lives in Mozambique and works with AIDS charities.

So not my favourite Mankell book but I applaud the author for using the novel to highlight the human tragedy that is happening in Africa.
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