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Wednesday, 28 June 2017

‘Block 46’ by Johana Gustawsson

Translated by Maxim Jakubowski
Published by Orenda Books,
31 May 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-910633-70-0                    

Falkenberg, Sweden, and the mutilated body of talented jewellery designer Linnea Blix is discovered in a snow-swept marina.

Hampstead Heath, London, and the body of a small boy is found with similar wounds to Linnea's.

Buchenwald Concentration Camp 1944, and in the middle of the hell that is the Holocaust, Erich Ebner will do anything to survive.

Alex Castellis is a true crime writer and a close friend of Linnea Blix, and she is thrown together with Canadian profiler Emily Roy to try and find out if the two murders are linked, and how they could be connected to the shocking events at a concentration camp 70 years earlier.

This is another dark and disturbing crime novel from the successful Orenda stable, and has been beautifully translated from the original French by Maxim Jakubowski. It's the first in a series featuring Emily Roy and Alex Castellis. It has a challenging mystery at its heart and is set between Sweden and London, ranging from the last years of the Second World War to 2014.

The characters are interesting - Emily is spiky and guarded and cares nothing for the social niceties. She remains an enigma even at the end of the book, but because she is such a tough nut to crack, I am looking forward to finding out more about her in future stories. Alex has a past of which we keep getting tantalising glimpses. Again, I want to know more about her. The locations are beautifully depicted - the cold of Sweden wonderfully evoked. The many-layered plot is twisty and tussles with the psychology of evil, good versus bad and nature versus nurture. A word of warning - it can be quite harrowing.

The haunting chapters set in Buchenwald are visceral and chilling and give us a vivid picture of the brutality that existed in the camps, without the writing being in any way gratuitous. It's worth saying that Johana Gustawsson's grandfather, Simon Lagunes, was a survivor of Buchenwald and a member of the camp's resistance movement until the camp’s liberation in April 1945.

I am looking forward to seeing what Gustawsson comes up with for book two.
Reviewer: Mary-Jane Riley

Johana Gustawsson was born in 1978 in Marseille. With a degree in political science, she 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, which was 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.

Mary-Jane Riley wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So, she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Then, in true journalistic style, she decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story and got creative. She wrote for women's magazines and small presses. She formed WriteOutLoud with two writer friends to help charities get their message across using their life stories. Now she is writing psychological suspense, drawing on her experiences in journalism. The Bad Things by Mary-Jane Riley was published by Harper Collins/Killer Reads. Her second book, After She Fell, also published by Killer Reads in April 2016.  

To read the review of After She Fell click here

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