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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 September 2007
When archaeologist Louise Cantor's son, Henrik, is found dead in his bed in Stockholm, she refuses to accept the police's verdict of suicide. Of course, this is a mystery novel, so the reader, based on previous experience of such affairs, feels wise to side with her. Louise gives up her commitments to a dig in Greece, and embarks upon a messy, mother's-grief-fuelled quest to find out the truth. It's a quest that will lead her back to Henrik's enigmatic, almost hermetic father, to Spain, and then to the AIDs-riddled communities of Mozambique, where a mysterious benefactor is funding help efforts. On the way there, she must contend with the puzzle thrown up by Henrik's extensive clippings and investigations into the conspiracy concerning president Kennedy's missing brain.

Kennedy's Brain is a very odd chestnut. Louise's somewhat messy but nobly-motivated questing proves a good metaphor for the whole book, in fact: motivated by righteous anger but executed with a bit of a muddle.

Mankell has always had an eccentric style, and with the Wallander stories and his occasional standalones, he has always plotted so superbly and created such engaging characters that that eccentricity works well with those strengths. Here, though, something's off. The plotting is in fact a bit of a muddle, and the atmosphere doesn't quite work. Louise's intense grief is supposed to arouse, one supposes, empathy and drive, but instead it bogs things down. The constant protestations of grief get tiresome, and rather than create urgency they almost overwhelm to the point of catalepsy. The plot kicks along in starts, somewhat perfunctorily at times, not feeling particularly fleshed out in terms of what has actually happened. Yes, he perfectly creates the sense of some kind of malevolence, and eventually we find out what that is more specifically, but there's little detail. Especially concerning a character's disappearance which seems odd from the very page it happens: thrown in just to give Louise something more to puzzle over but which increasingly seems to go nowhere.

At one point, one character says of another: "he could sometimes be a bit high-flown, but he really meant it", and that also sums up this book very well. Occasionally the prose is high-flown (Mankell is a great one for planting melodramatic thoughts and scripting high-flown dialogue), some of the plotting is a little odd, and overall bits of it feel underdeveloped (while others are crafted in great detail), but when the pen is laid down, you know this was motivated by strong feeling, and has noble motives. Mankell really means this, and is really impassioned when he is able to hit upon the AIDs topic. The scenes at the hospice are among the best in the book. You know - if you didn't already - this is a topic close to Mankell's heart, but that it is so close means that bits of the book feel forced out so he can plot a novel round the issue.

The book has it's strengths: Louise is fascinating, when removed from her sadness, and Mankell's crusading is powerful, as is his evocation of place and atmosphere. But the mystery elements are sketched scantily, and overall it doesn't come together too well as a thriller. It's a noble but flawed book (and the title, which reflects an obsession of Henrik's, is irritatingly irrelevant, and that obsession, annoyingly, only symbolic) though I would say it is worth reading for its strengths, and the fact that it's Mankell.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 December 2007
So, this is a novel about a Swedish archaeologist called Louise Cantor, and her quest to find out why her (adult) son has died. It's apparently suicide, but of course Louise doesn't believe it and sets off on a quest to find out the truth that takes her from Greece to Sweden to Spain to Australia to Mozambique and a few other places besides. Louise's plane-hopping doesn't do much for her state of mind (or her carbon footprint, let's be honest) but it makes for a gripping tale, and one that's a bit ambitious in its scope.
The globetrotting makes the novel seem quite exotic, especially the African sections. Mankell works with a theatre group in Mozambique, so I guess he's qualified to write about the place. He makes it seem dark and dangerous, full of mystery and suspense. But then he does that with the sleepy little town of Ystad in the Wallander novels.
I enjoyed reading this very much, and it's certainly a great page turner. The main character of Louise is pretty well drawn (better done than Linda Wallander in `Before the Frost') as a distraught mother on a mission, so perhaps Mankell is learning how to portray women. Having said that, I found the character of Lucinda, the woman she meets in Mozambique, quite hard to believe. I always have issues with Mankell's dialogue and this novel is no exception - there are some dreadful bits of dialogue. Maybe it's the translator.
The novel as a whole is rather melodramatic too, which could put some readers off. It reminded me of `King Solomon's Mines' sometimes, and `The Island' at other times. If you made a movie of this book, it would probably be quite corny, and I wasn't too sure I bought the stuff about human experiments on Aids sufferers.
Even so, it's a good read, full of atmosphere, with a good, if not entirely believable, story that will keep you turning the pages.
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on 8 November 2010
I love Mankell's Wallander series. Even if the case of a Wallander mystery isn't all that great, the writing and the description of the characters are so good that it's always a great read.

Not so with "Kennedy's Brain". The heroine is set on a wild goose chase around the world, characters are being killed and in the end nothing gets resolved.

Surely, the topic of this book, which is grave, could have been dealt with in a different fashion. In the framework of a thriller it doesn't work at all, the characters that fill this novel all have an 'invented' feeling about them, the dialogues are constructed, as is the whole plot.

Not a good read. Sorry.
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on 8 August 2011
I have read a lot of Mankell's 'Wallander' novels and a few of his stand-alone novels and would unhesitatingly give each one five stars, but I thought this novel was dreadful. It was turgid, muddled and inconclusive. I didn't like any of the characters so I didn't really care what happened to them and there were many unanswered questions. It was depressing and uninvolving. I am looking forward to getting back to 'Wallander.' A dull and disappointing read.
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on 23 January 2014
mankells books are so gripping if at times rather dramatic for those expecting sleepy Wallander . This is an extremely odd book ; a woman investigates the death of her son who she discovers she knows nothing about . He had a flat in Barcelona , a life in Africa , girl friends , secrets , a kennedy obsession and worked at a mysterious aids hospice . Along the way she drinks a lot , is mugged , her ex husband disappears and others die ..... its all a great ripping yarn for a dark night , with lots of strong imagery re west treatment of Africa and aids and I was loving it .... and then it finished ... and I didn't really get closure ......
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on 18 November 2011
When I picked this book up to read, it was with some measure of excitement and anticipation. A couple of days later, reaching the last page, I felt a bit puzzled -what an oddly inconclusive novel.

Louise Cantor is an archaeologist who thought that she had a close relationship with her only son, Henrik. When Henrik is found dead in his bed in his flat in Stockholm, Louise refuses to believe the official verdict of suicide and becomes convinced that his death was in fact a murder.

With the police refusing to get involved, Louise becomes a sleuth and the ensuing search covers a lot of ground, in a literal sense from Sweden to Australia, from Australia to Spain and from Spain to Mozambique, and metaphorically from philospohical musings on the missing brain of President Kennedy, to all the ills of modern day Mozambique.

To be honest, it felt like a whistlestop tour. The only time that Louise seems to sit down is when she is on a plane or collapsing into an exhausted sleep. The clues of the 'mystery' fall thick and fast with about as much subtlety as that employed by Enid Blyton when she wrote the Secret Seven stories - and only half of them are followed up. I was left wondering if this was only a first draft that accidentally slipped past the publishers.

So, should you read this? If you are an intolerant reader, I'd say give it a miss - the number of loose ends that Mankell leaves the reader with will probably irritate you enormously. However, if you are more tolerant and like an experimental read, then give this one a go.
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on 8 April 2013
This is probably one of the best books I have ever read. I can't stop reading Henning Mankell, but this one is so unlike his Wallender series, you wonder if it is the same author (which of course it is, he is so knowledgeable on so many subjects). A very fascinating book, and the reader will have lots of questions to ask after reading this. Don't let the title put you off, think Aids and Africa and so many twists
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on 6 August 2010
Middle-aged Swedish archaeologist discovers her son dead in bed. Evidence points to an overdose but she beieves he has been murdered. With only her intuition to guide her she starts searching for clues amongst her son's possessions that might give an indication of why someone would want to kill him. In searching she discovers a son she never really knew and reconnects with a long departed husband. The clues she finds lead her to Africa and the world of charitable foundations for AIDS sufferers. But, this is also a world of fear, exploitation, mystery and extreme violence. Kennedy's Brain is a good read with a strong moral message. Nevertheless, this is not a great book. The pace is too uneven for that and the author has a habit of allowing significant storylines to peter out without real explanation, as if he couldn't find a good way to tie up the loose ends.
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on 7 May 2016
I have read and enjoyed most of Henning Mankell's books featuring Kurt Wallender but this is a very different book indeed. It centres around a female archiologist who finds her son dead after an apparent suicide. The police seem to think that it is a genuine suicide but she is not convinced. She suspects that there is something far more sinister about her son's death and sets out on a desperate trip around the world to discover the truth about the death, discovering things about her son along the way that she was completely unaware of. She is helped along the way by various people, her father, her ex-husband, her son's girlfriend etc. All the way through there are references to the her son's fascination with what really happened to president Kennedy's brain. At times, it moves along at pace and it becomes a page turner, but at other times it gets a bit turgid and confused. It has a philosophical side to it when she reaches Africa and discovers the plight of people suffering from AIDS and their subsequent exploitation. I found some of the plot line difficult to believe in and a bit unconvincing. I thought that the ending was disappointing and when I finished the book I felt a little let down by it. Would I recommend the book? I find this question difficult to answer, half of me says yes and the other half says no. On balance, I suppose I would say give it a try but don't expect too much at the end.
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on 18 May 2012
This is not really a novel, its a rant about AIDS and the lack of empathy of the West, disguised as a novel. And maybe that would be ok if the plot was better, or there was an ending to the story... but its all just wafts about a bit and the 'plot' seems to just be the vehicle to get to the next bit of 'social comment'.

Its a very misleading title too as it has pretty much nothing to do with Kennedy's Brain, except in a very tangential way. Though this is also something that could be forgiven in a better book.

The characters are not endearing either; its actually quite unpleasant to be in the main characters head and listen to her reflections on other people. Indeed most of the characters are either selfish or merely cardboard cut-outs, so its quite bland in characterisation as a result.

The motivations of the main character as she flits about often seem random and bizarre. The motivations of the "bad guys" are equally strange, you cant help wondering why they don't just nip her investigations in the bud by killing her, instead of following her around killing everyone else... there seems no reason why she is not equally disposable.

The issues in the book could have worked as a novel I think, if the plot had been better and if the editing had made it all a bit less heavyhanded. A failure of the editor as much as the author here I think; someone needed to say "This just doesn't work, but nobody seems to have had the guts to"
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