The 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
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.