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.

PASTOR’S SPANISH MYSTERY IS ON SONG MOST OF THE TIME.

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The Horseman's Song CoverEvery year particularly around the D-Day anniversary in June and Armistice in November, hundreds of friends and relatives and remaining few survivors make the pilgrimage to the world war battle field sites scattered across northern France and Belgium. I know friends who have done it, but it’s something I’ve never done and would like to do, especially the to the Civil War battle sites in America.  One thing you never hear about though, is people going to visit the Spanish Civil War battle sites ( apart from probably the Spanish of course).  Although a quick google does bring up guided tours of their sites. It’s strange I haven’t heard more about the Spanish Civil War, especially in Ireland, considering the couple of thousand Irish men who went over to fight on both sides of the war. This month’s second book review and blog tour is set during the Spanish Civil War, it’s  The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor and published by Bitter Lemon Press (www.bitterlemonpress.com) on the 14th February.

Spain 1937, in the midst of the bloody Spanish Civil we find German  Officer and Detective, Martin Von Bora assigned to the Sierras of Aragon in South Western Spain. Where he’s fighting with the Spanish Foreign Legion. There he discovers the body of Federico Garcia Lorca , the brilliant Spanish poet and playwright, as he begins what will be a perilous investigation into the murder, he discovers Walton his opposite number in  the International Brigades is also looking into Lorca’s death, as he was a friend of the victim. Soon Bora and Walton join forces and their joint investigation culminates in a thrilling chase after writers  killer.

This is the sixth novel in Ben Pastor’s historical detective series featuring Martin Von Bora but my first occasion to make his acquaintance.  Researching the other novels prior to writing this I was surprised to find that this is a prequel, being set during the Spanish Civil War. Reading the book, I was intrigued to wonder how Pastor would continue the series, with Von Bora, A Wehrmacht Officer, as a sympathetic lead character as he progressed into the era of World War Two. I anticipated waiting for the next novel to be released but it seems I just need to return to the first and read on from there.

I found this an engrossing read. It is certainly a slow burn. Pastor is known for her accurate wartime settings and this is the case here. However, she doesn’t give us an overall history lesson. She focuses attention on one death and on the lives of two groups of antagonists. The opposing forces occupying two elevated positions above the sierra. They spend their time surviving the heat, deprivation and boredom while they await news of the next offensive. Von Bora himself , has just taken command of the nationalist post after the previous lieutenant was shot. He is a German officer, taking orders from the Nationalist army but carrying out his own intelligence gathering for his German superiors. His counterpart on the Internationalist post is Phillip (Felipe) Walton, who is an American volunteer. Felipe has survived world war one but was unable to settle back into civilian life and left his life and marriage to fight in the Spanish civil war, bringing his secrets and fears along.

Two things emerge to unite Walton’s and Von Bora’s interest and energies. The body of  Frederico Garcia Lorca, a famous poet  discovered in the valley between the two camps. This is one point when Pastor strays from fact. No one is sure what happened to Lorca. The history books tell us he was shot by Franco’s troops at the beginning of the Civil War but no one knows where his body is buried. Pastor has created her own fictional account of his death within these pages, cleverly referring to false rumours of his earlier demise.

When Von Bora comes across the body and is immediately interested in how the unknown man died. He reports on the body to his Colonel, who recognises the identity of the victim from Von Bora’s description and tries to keep it a secret, but when they go to fetch the body it is gone, removed by the Internationalists.  Both sides immediately blame the other and a long game of cat and mouse ensues with the body being moved and reinterred and each man making his own investigation. For some it is a matter of personal sorrow, for others propaganda and for Von Bora a puzzle to be solved.

Ben Pastor

Ben Pastor (Clinque Colonne Magazine)

The second character is a Bruja or witch who lives alone at the top of a neighbouring craggy peak. Both Walton and Von Bora visit her. She enchants them with her free spirit and mystical approach and with her lovemaking skills. The character seems surreal and you are left wondering if she is a figment of their imaginations. There is a great deal of philosophical discussion in the book. I like things a bit more literal and less deep I’m afraid, but I wondered if she was meant to be a metaphor?

Ben Pastor (www.benpastor.com) is the pseudonym of Italian born American author Maria Verbena Volpi. After studying Archaeology in Rome, she moved to the United States to teach in the the Mid-West and Vermont. Her previous five Martin Bora Novels include: Lumen (1999); Liar Moon (2001); A Dark Song Of Blood (2002); Master of One Hundred Bones (2011). She’s also written a detective series centered around a Roman soldier  in the fourth century  and two books featuring a pair of detectives in Prague on the eve of world war one. She has written fourteen books to date, but this is the first time The Horseman’s Song has been published the UK. It was originally published in 2003.

The cover blurb talks about a thrilling chase to catch the killer. I didn’t find that in the story. What I did feel was a slow build of tension and heat. Like a kettle building to the boil.  There was a lot of time when nothing really happened, but I still felt the tension increasing. I was looking forward to a great reveal and grand finale but despite the clever denouement and not seeing the answer in advance, I did feel a little disappointed after all my hard work reading this rather chunky tome. However, overall the reading experience was satisfying because of the excellent writing.

So if you love Historical fiction, then get down to your local bookshop or download a copy and get into the Martin Von Bora series. Not forgetting any of Pastors other historical mysteries.

 

Reviewed By Georgina Murphy

 

This book was reviewed as part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you read this book, come back and leave a message telling us what you thought.

 

The Horsemans Song Blog Tour Poster