Ariel Dorfman's gripping and expansive mystery novel The Suicide Museum revolves around a central question: Did Chilean president Salvador Allende die by suicide or murder? The main character is a fictionalized version of Dorfman himself, hinting at the author's real-life connection to the book's historical events: Dorfman worked for Allende at the time of the military coup that resulted in his 1973 death.
The story begins when Dorfman gets an offer he can't refuse. Dutch billionaire Joseph Hortha wants to know the truth about Allende's fate and enlists the writer's help in solving the mystery. As Dorfman says, "I needed money and he had it, he had more than he knew what to spend it on." From the start, though, Hortha's true motives are murky. The pair travels from the United States to South America and ultimately to London in pursuit of someone who can attest to Allende's last moments, and each is forced to contend with guilt and trauma from the past.
As Dorfman learns more about Hortha's deeply personal connection to the mystery, and his unusual plan to save humankind from destruction, he must grapple with the task at hand, loyalty to those close to him (and in particular his steadfast wife, Angélica), and pivotal life events that still haunt him. Unlike most thrillers, this cerebral tale also serves as a history lesson and a philosophical contemplation on humanity's shared fate, making it a thought-provoking high point in Dorfman's prolific literary career. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer