Young reporter Marit Sköld and her boyfriend, Kalle Lundberg, an adopted Indian, are going through a relationship crisis. Marit has lost her job at the small local newspaper in northern Sweden and wants to move to Stockholm, the capital city. Kalle refuses, as he is working for his father. In order to sort out their relationship, they spend a few weeks on an island resort in the North.
On the island, they discover an abandoned house. The mail to its owner keeps on coming and is stored in the island store. Marit the reporter starts investigating the case. With the aid of public documents from Swedish authorities and interviews, she finds out that the missing person is a renowned chemist and business manager, Gösta Wendelin. He is around sixty, single and is described as reasonably well-to-do since he sold his chemical engineering company to American and Swiss investors. His main product was Endosulphan, a pesticide recently banned for use by the EU. The new owners were said to be merely interested in the patent of the Swede and had the factory close after the takeover.
Marit and Kalle hear a rumour saying that someone had attempted to kill Wendelin the day before he vanished. A black-skinned man is said to have arrived on the public ferry on the very same day that Swedes celebrate Midsummer. He was walking on crutches. Two rifle shots were heard during the night and a witness told Marit the reporter that the stranger had reconstructed his crutch to form a shotgun. The witness had called the police twice during the night, but no one went to the island, since the weather was extremely unsuitable for boating. A ship carrying a load of timber was stranded nearby and kept the police and coast guard busy.
Marit writes a story and manages to get it published in Expressen, the largest daily paper in Scandinavia. Immediately after the publication, a reader contacts her. It is a woman who works at a travel agency. In spite of several years having passed since the event, she remembers Gösta Wendelin. She sold him a plane ticket to Kerala. He paid using American Express. In her bookkeeping, she finds information on the credit card being owned by a company in Munnar, Sita Mountain Tea Corporation.
Win or lose, Marit Sköld and her boyfriend Kalle Lundberg go to Kerala. Expressen promises to buy the material if the Swedes are able to produce a story to shed light on the disappearance and attempted murder.
At Trivandrum Airport, Kalle Lundberg gets stuck in Indian red tape. He is a Swedish citizen but adopted from India. His passport states that he was born in Vizhinjam. The passport policeman tries to explain that he is an NRI (non-resident Indian), but Kalle is aggravated and claims to be Swedish. Marit intervenes and everything calms down.
On their way to Munnar, the two Swedes get a premonition that everything is not right with Gösta Wendelin. A union representative on the bus changes the subject as soon as they ask questions about the Swede. They make a visit to Sita Mountain Tea, where he has not been heard of even though he has had a credit card listed under the company name. He is not in the roster of previous employees, either. Marit and Kalle contact the local press in Munnar to publish a request for finding the whereabouts of Gösta Wendelin, but when the story goes to the press, it is only about Kalle Lundberg and his Indian background.
In the novel, two central characters will now emerge:
• The young tea harvester Leela newly lost her husband, who worked for Sita Mountain as well. As she is a widow, her situation in the family of her deceased husband has become unbearable. She has fallen ill as well. Her symptoms are reminiscent of those of her husband; the health care of Sita Mountain has not been able to do anything for her.
• Now, Swedish chemist Gösta Wendelin is presented in the novel as well. When the EU banned his pesticide, he moved the production of it closer to his largest market, the tea plantations of southern India. In practise, his company merged with Sita Mountain Tea. The other business partners are Ministers affiliated with the political party currently in power in the state.
Wendelin is under hard pressure. He feels that the Indian majority owners do not want to keep him in the company; they want to take over his shares. He does not dare leave the country due to fear of a coup in the company Board of Directors. The Hindu-Fascist movement RSS, Rashtriya Swayasewak Sangh, National Volunteer Corps, has its eyes on him. Fascists have been expanding their grudge against foreigners to not only encompass Muslims and Christian missionaries but Western experts as well, who are accused of modern colonialism. Faced with these two threats, Gösta Wendelin tries to maintain as low a profile as possible. He is in the process of making a new pesticide to revolutionise the global market. One remaining problem is the side effects of the pesticide, which has caused a number of deaths. The fact that humans are dying in the tracks of Wendelin does not bother the Ministers, who are in control of important, local institutions of society: police, courts, health care, and media. The Indian owners do feel that the experiments of Wendelin are too long-winded.
While Marit are looking for Gösta Wendelin in Munnar, the police make a nightly raid to their hotel. Kalle is beaten with a lathi and both Swedes watch as the police dig up a shipment of hashish in the garden of the hotel. They are accused of being in possession of drugs and banished from the country after being questioned.
The two of them realise that Gösta Wendelin must have set them up with the aid of the police. Marit does not want to give up. At Trivandrum Airport, she makes a scene. Under the pretence of having to find menstrual protection, she escapes the male police while Kalle boards the plane bound for Europe.
In the crowd outside the departure terminal, a dark man walking on crutches catches Marit. It is Father George Lalu, a disrobed Catholic priest from Munnar. He takes Marit with him and hides her in a slum area close to the airport. The charismatic man tells his story of fighting for the tea harvesters; he claims that around 30 of them have died since Gösta Wendelin started performing his experiments. The decidication of Father George has even brought him to Sweden, where he went to Wendelin’s home to try to appeal to the good sense of Wendelin, but his attempts were in vain.
Marit Sköld suddenly realises that Father George is identical to the dark man on the Swedish island, the man who she has labelled an assassin in the largest newspaper in the Nordic countries.
The priest relates his version of what happened at the home of Gösta Wendelin during the dramatic weekend of Midsummer. According to Father George, it was Wendelin who fired the shots at Father George to kill him, not the other way around. The witness had misinterpreted the situation. He tells her how he fell out in the yard and how one of the bullets fired by Wendelin hit the flagpole above his head. The Indian managed to escape when the Marit’s witness arrived.
At home in Sweden, Kalle travels to the island and inspects the remains of the flagpole. It has been hit by a bullet.
Father George takes Marit to see the tea harvesters on the mountains. She experiences the cremation of a young woman who has been poisoned by the new chemicals of Wendelin. She meets children, blind from birth, and a boy with lesions on his entire body. The relatives of Leela, the widow who is very ill, demand that Marit and Father George take the woman with them. A police car arrives but has a flat tyre.
Swedish law enables taking Gösta Wendelin to court in Sweden. Marit must find evidence. A young chemist asks her to take along a few newly dusted leaves of tea for analysis. Father George writes a formal charge for the Swedish police.
Before Marit Sköld returns, she must meet Gösta Wendelin. Father George sets up a meeting with a woman who can help her. It is the Muslim housematron of Wendelin, frequently sexually abused by the Swede. The confrontation is successful and Marit can take an interview home with her.
The analyses of the leaves show that Gösta Wendelin has used an enzyme that inhibits the procreation of insects; however, it also inhibits the ability for vertebrates to absorb fats as nutrients. This means that tea harvesters who inhale the poison die from diseases caused by malnutrition.
Swedish authorities request that Gösta Wendelin be released so that he can stand trial. The Indian Office of Foreign Affairs keeps stalling. Father George pulls some strings and RSS makes the Indian authorities put Wendelin on a plane bound for Sweden. Father George is called as the representative of the plaintiffs.
When court proceedings are initiated, the defence presents a written statement from the government of Kerala State, relieving Gösta Wendelin of all judicial responsibility. Politicians in high places assign him a minor position in the company. He cannot be blamed for the deaths. The Swedish court frees him from the charges.
When Gösta Wendelin is on his way to a taxi, Father George shows up. He takes out his crutch. There is a weapon inside, the same weapon that the witness on the island believed to have seen. A bullet hits Wendelin in the head and he dies immediately.
Father George manages to escape but is apprehended later in the day on board a freight ship in the harbour.
The Decent Mass-Murderer is an independent sequel to The Number to Calicut. In order to gather material, I have lived in Munnar for a month. I have also visited a closed-down Coca-Cola factory in Palakkad and the criticised cashew plantations in Kasaragod. The purpose of the novel is to show what happens to chemicals banned from use in Europe.