Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson – review

Published by Orenda Books

Publication date – 15 May 2017

Source – review copy

Translated by Maxim Jakobowski

“Evil remembers…

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s.

Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?

Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French truecrime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.”

True crime writer Alexis Castells is used to dealing with the nastier side of life. When her friend goes missing and then is found murdered in Sweden, Alexis is drawn into finding out who the killer is. It would seem that victims with similar injuries have been found in London. Alexis and profiler Emily Roy are soon caught up in an investigation that will see them travel between London and Sweden, and back to the dark days of World War Two.

I had attended an event at a local bookshop during which Johana Gustawsson read from her soon to be published novel, Block 46. That snippet peaked my interest so I was keen to read the novel.

This was an interesting story, flitting as it did between 1944 and the concentration camp, and to the present day. The murders were graphic, as was the detail that was provided about life as a prisoner in Buchenwald. Those sections of the novel are particularly hard hitting but given the nature of what happened to so many, to shy away from it and sugar coat it would be to do them a dishonour.

I liked that the narrative switched between the modern day and the past. It allowed the story to develop, layering information for the reader to create a more rounded tale. There were times when I felt that chapters finished somewhat abruptly but the technique does draw the reader in.

I don’t feel that I got a particular feel for the main characters. Emily appears standoffish and borderline annoying, though there are hints to events in her past having shaped her demeanour. Alexis too comes with baggage, a past that she still hasn’t completely come to terms with. Though the women worked together to solve the case the relationship between them seemed a little distant at times, at others surprisingly close. There is the basis for a good partnership, with great potential and which will hopefully develop in further novels.

I liked that the novel was set in both Sweden and London, particularly that most of the action was set in Sweden giving insight into a country and a way of life I wasn’t overly familiar with.

The story was engaging, the plot intriguing and the dénouement played out really well.

The translation also worked well. I forgot I was reading a translation and had the impression I was reading the author’s own words, not the translator’s interpretation, which is always a good sign.

I hope this review doesn’t make it appear as if I didn’t enjoy the novel. I did. It was entertaining, thought provoking at times and drew me along. I’m glad I read it. I’ll be interested to see what the second Roy and Castells story has to offer.

About the author:

Born in 1978 in Marseille and with a degree in political science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French press and television. She married a Swede and now lives in London. She was the co-author of a bestseller, On se retrouvera, published by Fayard Noir in France, whose television adaptation drew over 7 million viewers in June 2015. She is working on the next book in the Roy & Castells series.

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