Henning Mankell, Kennedy’s Brain


Named after an organ inexplicably missing from the corpse of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, this edgy book is ostensibly about the suicide of Henrik Kantor, a man of inscrutable profession. Swedish archaeologist Louise Cantor goes in search of answers and finds an underworld of greed and corruption linked to an AIDS epidemic. Swedish author Henning Mankell is widely known for his Wallander detective novels and for his fictional worlds. Noted espionage writer Dan Fesperman explores in his appreciation why Mankell’s readers are addicted to his work.

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Some of the most trenchant social reality novels have come from the Swede Henning Mankell .  The deserved winner of the CWA Gold Dagger with Sidetracked, it was a turning-point in the reception of Scandinavian crime with both readers and publishers in the Anglo-Saxon world. As a consequence a good deal more European crime fiction was translated into English. Inevitably, “Wallander is one of the great creations of modern crime fiction” said Barry Forshaw, and further “overweight, diabetes-ridden and with all the problems of modern society leaving scars on his soul”. He made it to the TV screens with Kenneth Branagh in the lead; but not before the books had been highly successful in a home-grown Swedish series. Mankell is married to Eva Bergman, daughter of legendary Swedish film maker Ingmar Bergman. This is one of his social reality mystery novels, derived from Mankell’s campaigning work about AIDS in Africa.

Plotline: All signs indicate that the death of young Henrik Cantor is a suicide. However, his parents don’t agree and begin an investigation of their own. Kennedy’s Brain is the new thriller by Henning Mankell. One day in the fall of 2004 the Swedish archaeologist Louise Cantor leaves her excavation in Greece to attend a conference in Stockholm. She is to meet her son Henrik there, but he does not turn up. When Louise manages to get into his flat she finds Henrik dead. Everything indicates a suicide, but Louise refuses to believe it.  Together with her ex-husband, Aron Cantor, Louise tries to trace the whereabouts of Henrik in the last period of his life. This leads into a underworld that has been created in the wake of the aids epidemic, a world populated by people trying to exploit the victims of the catastrophe. There are cynical businessmen selling infected blood, research teams carrying out dubious and dangerous tests in their hunt for a vaccine, and not least there are drug dealers who in the aids medicine have found a new object to sell. Louise and Aron soon realise that exactly like Henrik they are risking their lives when following the tracks that lead upwards and upwards to mighty financial institutions and into the corridors of power. And for those who have started this journey there is no return.  Kennedy’s brain (Kennedys hjärna) is a breathtaking tale about the great collective lie under which Europe and the Western world is living in the time of aids.

Kennedy’s Brain was issued in 2007 in a run of 80 signed and numbered copies in a special binding. It was a delight to have Dan Fersperman accept our invitation to write the appreciation of the author. Dan Fesperman is a noted espionage writer and winner of the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for The Small Boat of Great Sorrows (2003). He explores in his appreciation why Mankell’s readers are addicted to his work.

4.00 out of 5

3 reviews for Henning Mankell, Kennedy’s Brain

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rating by From the Denver Post on June 24, 2012 :

    From the Denver Post
    Life is cheap in “Kennedy’s Brain,” Henning Mankell’s multifaceted novel about diseases of sexual transmission and conscience. Actually, committing murder is a $30 to $40 job in Mozambique, the darkest of several hearts of darkness in Mankell’s knowing, weary – and masterful – mystery.
    Mankell’s world here is one of romance gone toxic, in which hope is always a step behind despair. Named after an organ inexplicably missing from the corpse of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, this edgy book is ostensibly about the suicide of Henrik Kantor, a man of inscrutable profession.
    When his mother, Louise, discovers Henrik’s body in his Stockholm apartment, she can’t accept the ruling of suicide by local police and determines to find out what really happened. Her quest takes her to Barcelona, where Henrik kept a secret apartment; Australia, where her ex-husband Aron has repaired to; and Maputo, the Mozambique city where AIDS runs amok. In Maputo, Henrik found love – and discovered that AIDS and the drugs that cure it can be symbiotic and corrupt and profitable.
    “Kennedy’s Brain” explores various manifestations of the underworld. It covers the Barcelona apartment whose landlady Henrik slept with, the laboratory in the former Belgian Congo where doctors conducted unspeakable experiments on chimpanzees and Xai Xai, a Mozambique outpost where the spiritual successors of those Congo doctors do evil in the name of good with, but not for, humans.
    “Medicines are raw materials that can be just as valuable as metals or jewels. That’s why there is no limit to what people are prepared to do in the name of greed.”
    That’s the picture Adelinho, a “dolphin painter” and former Congo laboratory worker, paints for Louise, an archaeologist who forsakes her career to trace the links between her son, AIDS and the Western economic interests that simultaneously fuel and taint progress toward its cure.
    “Kennedy’s Brain” is a profoundly political, deeply moral book by Mankell, a Swedish novelist best known for his Inspector Wallander mysteries. Those are consummate procedurals; “Kennedy’s Brain” is a deeper sort of procedural, in effect a kind of manual in morality forensics.
    As Louise runs down her quarry, she comes to realize that it’s not only the question of her son’s death that must be answered. Also essential for her to figure out is where to draw the line between moral and market forces – and where to pin the blame when market trumps morality.
    To his credit, Mankell doesn’t preach, a temptation in a novel so preoccupied with evil. Instead, he creates characters who evolve organically to tell their complex story, like Blanca, Henrik’s ambivalent Spanish landlady; Lucinda, the prostitute with whom Henrik falls in love; and the ironically named Christian Holloway, a man of wealth, taste and expediency who runs the clinic in Xai Xai where some go to rot away and some go to help stave off death.
    Nightmare suffuses “Kennedy’s Brain,” as when Louise, in search of the talismanic Lucinda, explores one of the more secret chambers in Xai Xai, a space where experimental discards wither away….

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rating by Jacob on Goodreads on June 24, 2012 :

    Jacob on Goodreads gave it 4 stars
    Very enjoyable Mankell. He’s still got it. Engaging story and fascinating travels across the globe (Sweden, Australia, Spain, Africa). A puzzle is put together slowly of how a character was trying to reveal the truth. Disappearances, mysterious deaths, and chilling depictions of power wielding individuals in poverty and AIDS stricken Africa all add up to a compelling read. I was a little let down by the ending but may just need to think about it more.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rating by Ann on Goodreads on June 24, 2012 :

    Ann on Goodreads gave 4 stars
    This book is a departure from Mankell’s Kurt Wallender series. It’s worth reading. It’s that rare book that doesn’t seek to wrap everything up in a satisfactory ending, with good triumphing over evil. Many critical questions go unanswered, which stimulates thinking. An excellent book for conspiracy lovers, Mankell leads into two worlds: first, the mind of a fifty year old woman trying to investigate something both personal and global, and second, a fictional underworld of AIDS research in Africa that seems more plausible than not.

    My only complaint about Mankell is his translator, who delivers a clunky and wooden translation, especially in the dialogue, interior and exterior.

    Still, Mankell satisfies

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