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.

MANKELL STEPS OUT OF HIS COMFORT ZONE IN HIS ITALIAN SHOES

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Italian Shoes CoverHow many pairs of shoes do you have? Two, six, twelve, more!!! Are you in the Imelda Marcos league? We’re led to believe most women are and some men too. I have four which I wear regularly, two pairs of runners, a tatty and well worn pair of shoes for work and a casual pair of shoes for… Well, going out casually in. Then there are the two dressy shoes. But one thing I can say is they are all comfortable. Which according to the Chinese philosopher Chuang Chou is important, “As long as the shoe fits, you don’t think about the foot…”. It is often said that there are opera singers around the world who don’t care what directors or conductors think as long as the shoe they wear is comfortable, that’s all that matters. We learn this from last months book group read, “Italian Shoes” by the Swedish author Henning Mankell, a writer more associated with Crime fiction then the book we have before us.

Italian Shoes follows a year in the life of retired surgeon Frederick Welin, who lives a reclusive existence on an Island off the Swedish coast. When across the frozen sea one morning he sees an elderly woman with a Walking frame slowing making her way towards his house. She stumbles and falls, when he goes out to help he discovers it is Harriet, his first real love, whom he abandoned forty years earlier.  She’s tracked him down because as a dying wish she wants him to follow through on a promise he made all those years ago. To take her to a mysterious lake hidden deep in the forests of northern Sweden. The journey awakens old memories, and brings him into contact with the daughter he didn’t know he had, as well allowing him to confront the ghosts of the terrible event which cost him his career and drove him to the solitary life he now leads. Never again will his quiet little island be the same after this year.

Henning-Mankell_2

Henning Mankell

Before reading this book I thought Henning Mankell, was just one of the new wave of unknown Scandinavian crime writers who was following in the ground breaking exploits of Steig Larsson. Who have now found a hungry new audience beyond their homelands borders. Just think, ten years ago, you were a very broad minded person if you read Scandinavian crime novels or a linguist with a passion for Swedish or Norwegian. Now, like their furniture hypermarkets, you can’t turnaround but you run into the latest crime novel or TV drama from that part of the world. They’ve even spawned a genre – Scandi Noir/ Nordic Noir and like Starsky & Hutch a trend in woollen knitwear. But Mankell is best known for his Kurt Wallander series, which was made into a UK crime drama staring Kenneth Branagh. But he’s more prolific then that.  He’s written twelve Kurt Wallander books, seventeen non Wallander novels including “Italian Shoes”, eight children’s books, four original TV screenplays as well as forty six plays… Good god he’s a machine! Although the 68 year old does have an emotional side, he wrote a crime novel with Wallander’s daughter Linda in it, which he planned to turn into a trilogy, but after the actress who played her in the Swedish version of the series took her own life, so distraught was he that, he didn’t complete the trilogy.

When you’re used to reading one type of work by an author, and then they go and write something totally outside their comfort zone or genre, or better still if they change their style of writing from lets say first person to third, you can often find it really hard to read anything else they write. I’ve done this in the past with Patricia Cornwell, after around her tenth book she changed her style of writing, I haven’t been back since. With Mankell it was different, I’d never read any Wallander, although I knew who Mankell was and that he mainly wrote crime drama, or so I thought. So when this book was presented, I was very intrigued and excited at the prospect of reading it.

The book is refreshing; it reads and looks like a small book, but at almost 360 pages it’s about the average size. The pace is delivered by a master storyteller who seems to be able to make

Kenneth Brannagh as Wallander

Kenneth Branagh as Wallander

even most mundane thing sound interesting. It’s a simple story of a man living on an island with his ageing dog and cat, then throw in an ant hill in his guest bedroom for a bit of quirkiness, his ex girlfriend turning up terminally ill and requesting he take her to a mysterious lake in the wild of Sweden and already your wondering what the hell is in store, your always trying to guess what’s around the next corner, when is he going to fall back into murder mystery territory. But no, Mankell tells a wonderful tale of long lost love that never really died, even if it did seem a bit of a well worn subject. While also examining what goes through the minds of people who are in the twilight of their lives.

The only real downside to this book is the title. The “Italian shoes” in question are only really mentioned in a ten page piece midway through the book and seems to have no real bearing on the story. Thus I’m putting it down to something lost in translation; maybe the original title translation from Swedish into English was even more obscure.

So if you’re looking for a nice easy read, you can’t go far wrong with this book from a Swedish writing juggernaut. Put on your most comfortable shoes and walk down to your nearest book store and pick up a copy or slip into your comfy slippers and down load it to your eReader.