GUSTAWSSON WEAVES AN INTERESTING MELODY THROUGH TIME AND PLACE WITH BLOOD SONG

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Blood-SongThe urge to know our roots and lineage is strong. Recently I was offered the chance by an app on Facebook for it to guess my ancestry from my profile photo. Don’t judge me, I was five weeks into lockdown, and I was feeling bored. Seeing a friend’s interesting, if slightly off beam results prompted me to try. As previous readers of my reviews on this blog know, I’m of longstanding entirely northern English working-class stock. So, I was amused when it suggested I was mainly Spanish, with a dash of Mexican and Danish and a pinch of Italian.

However , when you think that there has been a constant movement of people for centuries due to war, emigration , the colonialization of countries by other nations and by travel for pleasure in recent times, it’s easy to see how our genetic heritage may be more complex than we at first imagine. I still don’t accept I’m mainly Spanish though! However, I’d be intrigued enough to take a proper DNA test as advertised by online family history research groups, to see if I am as wholly English as I think.

My musings bring me to this month’s first book review. Its of Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson and published by Orenda books (www.orendabook.co.uk) in September 2019.  This isn’t her book featuring the investigative duo of Emily Roy of the RCMP and the journalist and author Alexis Castells. They previously featured in Block 46 and Keeper, both reviewed by Adrian Murphy in the blog. We were delighted to be given a copy of Blood Song to review and add to our collection by Karen Sullivan and her team at Orenda. I was particularly attracted to the fact that it is partly based during the Spanish Civil War. Its not a period of history I am familiar with but having had some introduction from reading ‘The Horseman’s Song’ by Ben Pastor, I have since been keen to read other books set in the period.

Blood Song moves to and fro from the period of the Spanish Civil War and the inhumane treatment of republican prisoners by Franco’s brutal dictatorship to present day Sweden and the savage murder of a family in their home. The family in question are that of Alienor Lindberg, who is working with Scotland Yard, in the UK, and  is absent from their family gathering and is spared. The Lindberg’s run a highly successful fertility clinic. Could the murders be related to their work or to something in their past?

This novel delves into the scenarios of historic adoptions after war and genocide and the ramifications of what happens to those children as they become adults and their trauma resurfaces. Also, it looks into the present-day fertility industry and the recent scandals that have affected it as well as the difficult and painful journeys some people have to undertake to become parents. How easy is it for such programmes to play god and make life affecting decisions for the children engineered in such a way? Johana approaches the topics with sensitivity, having had personal experience of fertility clinics and IVF and one feels she has some empathy with the process.

The main investigators are Emily Roy, a profiler and Alexis Castells, a true crime writer. The combination of the two allows for, what I think to be, accurate police procedurals and the option to work outside the box. The characters are from a variety of European backgrounds and the movement of the story from Sweden, to Spain and the UK, with some exchanges in Swedish, English, French and Spanish make this a very international novel. Emily and Alexis are smart, attractive and refreshingly human ‘detectives’. I enjoyed their interactions and acceptance of each other’s flaws as well as the well-drawn cast of supporting characters.

This is French born author Johana Gustawsson’s (www.en.johanagustawsson.com)  third

johanagustawsson

Johana Gustawsson

novel after Block 46 (2015) and The Keeper (2017). She has a degree in political science and has worked as a journalist in TV and Print in both Spain and France. The Roy & Castells series has won numerous awards as is published in nineteen countries, while a joint French, Swedish and UK TV adaptation is currently underway. This book’s theme was inspired by Johana’s own experiences of IVF. She currently lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons.

The novel jumps around in location and time but the chapter titles helpfully guide the reader along. Not something I would usually notice, but here I took in each one and reset my thoughts to the appropriate story thread with more ease than I would have without them. Its certainly a book I felt I enjoyed more in chunks rather than a few pages at a time as its quite complex and as with most Scandi Noir type novels the character names and technical terms can take a bit of adapting to.

A well-structured plot leads to a satisfying denouement and despite the roaming from location to location and era to era, it had the feel of a limited cast detective story. The places are well described too making this an ideal book for this period of restricted travel. So, when the book shops re open, swing by and pick up a copy or if you can’t wait, go online and order a copy. Then sit back and enjoy the mystery and visit Europe from the comfort of your couch.

 

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

 

Finally, both of us here at The Library Door would like to send our best wishes to Karen Sullivan the MD of Orenda Books who was recently laid up with a bout of suspected Corona Virus. We hope she’s fully recovered now or at least well on the road to recovery. Stay safe everyone.

GUSTAWSSON LAYS THE FIRST BLOCK IN NEW CRIME SERIES

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BLOCK 46 COVER AW.inddGreat things come in pairs they say, hands, eyes, ears. More practical things include comfy shoes; or slippers that you yearn to slip into after work and the soft white pillows which take you to the land of nod each evening. Then there are things that you wished didn’t come in pairs, but usually have a habit of doing so, such as buses and taxis.

Great detectives usually come in pairs as well. There have been some great partnerships in crime fiction down through the years, such as The Hardy Boys, Agatha Christies Poirot and Hastings and Tommy and Tuppence as well as more recently Morse and Lewis. These have been male dominated. There have been a few female duo’s: take Rizzoli and Isles for example and  not forgetting eighties TV cop duo Cagney and Lacey. This brings us to this month’s  second book review, which sees the introduction of a brand new all-female crimefighting partnership. It’s Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson, published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.com) in May of this year.

 

When the mutilated body of a talented jewelry designer is found in a bleak snow swept marina in Sweden, her friends and family travel from London to recover the body. Among them is her close friend, French true crime writer Alexis Castells. She starts to do some digging of her own into the case. In the local police station she bumps into an old associate, Emily Roy  (a profiler for the RCMP Royal Canadian Mounted Police) who is on loan to Scotland Yard. Her reason for being in the same place at the same time? The body of a boy was found on Hampstead Heath in London with the same wounds. Is this the work of a serial killer or a weird coincidence? The two women team up and work the case hopping back and forth across the North Sea. As they do, they discover a link to a World War Two concentration camp. Can the two women get to the bottom of this mystery before the killer strikes again or before culprit turns from pursued to pursuer?
Of the two world wars, the WW2 and the Holocaust has provided writers with a vast and rich vein of material with which to blame the evil deeds of criminals on. Block 46 is no exception. What Gustawsson does is mix the bloody reality of Schindler’s list with Scandi Noir and in doing so produces a very enjoyable and original novel.

 

Johanna Gustawsson

Johanna Gustawsson

What first excited me about this book when it landed on my hall floor was the dramatic picture on the cover. The silhouette of a lone figure in hat and coat walking between two barbed wire fences, all too familiar as those of a concentration camp. But also, combined with the title, they recall images seen on the numerous grainy news reels of that period.
The two main characters are hardly strangers and have some history which is easily explained, thus allowing the story to flow seamlessly, without having to go through a long-winded and roundabout introduction which in some instances distracts from a story. They are also different in their own way, just like Holmes and Watson, Castells is the grounded one who keeps the Canadian Roy, with her unique investigative techniques and strange habits, grounded. It will be interesting to see how the two characters develop over the coming books.

 
I’m a little bemused as to why the author needed a translator of the book as it seems she has been living and working in the UK for many years. So, if you can walk into Sainsbury’s and buy a pint of milk or order a drink at a bar or even a meal from a menu. Why do you feel you need to have a translator rewrite your book? OK, there are a few easy explanations, she finds it easier to write in her native French or possibly that the book was originally written in French.

 
Another thing that did get me was the sudden wrapping up of things at the end. It seemed unrealistically quick. Suddenly one of our heroine’s is in mortal danger and next the cavalry rides in out of nowhere. It’s as if Johanna got tired near the end of the story and just decided to save them and neatly wrap it up.
This is French born Gustawsson’s second book, her first “On Se Retrouvera” which means We will meet each other again.Was adapted for French television in 2015 and watched by over 7 million viewers. She has worked previously for the French press and television, before moving to her adopted home of England with her Swedish husband. She is currently writing the second book in the Roy & Castells series.
So, if you are looking for a new twist on Scandi Noir and the creation of a new crime fighting double act with a very international flair to it, then this is right up your street. I will with wait with bated breath for the next instalment in this series. Meanwhile you can stop off at your local book shop and get it or download it.