Mankell shelves his estimable Kurt Wallander series (The Man Who Smiled, 2006, etc.) for a stand-alone about murder, conspiracy and an obsessive quest. The results are mixed.
Alone in his Stockholm apartment, a mother finds her son overdosed on sleeping pills. An obvious suicide, say the police. Fifty-six-year-old archeologist Louise Cantor, home on a break from a dig in Greece, knows better. Henrik was 25, vital, optimistic, fully engaged in life. She’s right, of course, but the police aren’t having it. We understand, they reply, but show us the evidence. So Louise begins a near-epic search for proof that takes her to unforeseen places, exposing a secret side of Henrik and his quirky interest in the mystery surrounding the death of JFK. She goes to Australia, where she finally tracks her estranged husband, Henrik’s father, whose help she needs. She goes to Africa, because Henrik went there and experienced it deeply, finding both nobility and its ugly opposite swirling around the AIDS epidemic—at one pole a death-dealing disease, at the other death-delaying pharmaceuticals and the profit to be made from exploiting them. “The Greed Virus,” some have called it, spawned by hidden agendas and unprincipled men for whom brutality is a business tactic.
Louise is such a powerhouse that she almost salvages a plot too meandering to be persuasive.