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Block 46 (Roy & Castells) Paperback – 15 May 2017
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"A bold and intelligent read." -- The Guardian
"There are two reasons for praising Block 46 , the first novel by the French author Johana Gustawsson. It has a strong plot, starting with similar killings on Hampstead Heath and in Sweden. They become linked with horrifying events in Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944. Perhaps as importantly, the frim detection is carried out by two strong women. Emily Roy is a profiler, lent to Scotland Yard by the Canadian Mounties; her friend Alexis Castells is a French writer of true-crime. They made a terrific, original duo. They have a future." -- The Times
"[This] prizewinning novel is the first in a series featuring a true-crime author and a Canadian profiler." -- The Sunday Times
"Block 46 is dark, oppressive and bloody but it's also thought-provoking, compelling and very moving." --The Metro
"Multi-layered, superbly plotted, brimming with mystery, tension and bone-chilling violence, and with two very different - but equally fascinating - lead female characters, Block 46 is not for the squeamish or faint-hearted... Disturbing, moving and utterly mesmerising, this is a book that has the power to shock and the artistry to impress long after the last page has turned." -- Lancashire Post
"Harrowing, ambitious, and downright chilling. Block 46 is not for the faint of heart and not to be missed." -- Crime by the Book
"Compelling." --Women's Own
"A real page-turner... I loved it!" -- Martina Cole,
"A great serial-killer thriller with a nice twist ... first rate." -- James Oswald
"A bold and audacious debut from a very talented writer. Heralds the beginning of a thrilling new series." -- R J Ellory
"Cleverly plotted, simply excellent..." -- Ragnar Jónasson
"Viscerally brutal yet delicately beautiful, like blood spatter on fresh snow. An unbelievable debut." -- Matt Wesolowski
"Gripping ... utterly mesmerizing." --Thomas Enger
About the Author
Born in 1978 in Marseille and with a degree in political science, Johana Gustawsson 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, 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.
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Top customer reviews
I read about this book on a few book blogs and decided to get a copy. I'm not usually one for police procedurals as I get bored with the endless conversations discussing the ins and outs of the case, but this attracted me because of the Scandinavian setting and the connection to Buchenwald concentration camp in WW2.
In Sweden, high-flying jewellery designer Linnéa Blix is found gruesomely and artfully murdered; it is clear that her killer was intent on her being discovered. Her friend, crime writer Alexis, becomes involved in the investigation, much of which is led by forensic profiler Emily Roy. The murder shows marked similarities to recent murders of young boys in London.
Alongside the unravelling investigation runs the story of Erich Ebner, a German medical student interred in Buchenwald, and his relationship with a Nazi doctor occupied with medical experimentation. Gradually, the two threads converge.
I was most pleased to discover that the ins and outs and whys and wherefores of the case discussion actually held my attention—a round of applause to the author. One particular part of 'the reveal' had me wanting to go back to the beginning and see all the clues I'd missed; I didn't guess the outcome at all! A side element I liked was the incidental information about Scandinavia, in general. I didn't find any of the characters particularly vivid (Emily was the one who 'spoke' to me the most), and I found it hard to remember which cop was which (there are a lot of them), but it kind of didn't matter, because the plot itself, the neat structure, the building of suspense and the interspersing of story threads totally carried this novel.
It's a bit on the grisly side in parts, but given the subject matter it could hardly be anything but, and I didn't feel, at any time, that this was just sensationalism. My only complaint was that I found the explanations of the killers' motivations a little vague; I was never exactly clear what need was being fulfilled or what the work of the Nazi doctor actually was, other than general sadism and psychopathery. But that might just be me. I was absorbed by the book all the way through, looked forward to getting back to it, and would definitely recommend it, whether you're a fan of this genre or not.
The truth is though, that I am not quite sure how to describe my feelings about this book. It is, in essence, a murder investigation. When Linnea Blix fails to show for the grand unveiling of her new jewellery collection, her friends and her partner are understandably worried. And when her body is discovered in Sweden, her death bearing the all hallmarks of another case currently being investigated in London, it brings her best friend, writer Alexis Castells, and profiler Emily Roy together in a bid to uncover her killer. The result of this pairing is as intriguing as it is exciting. Both women are determined, driven by past demons, and nothing will stop them in the pursuit of the truth.
And yet… to brand it a mere murder investigation would be to belie the truth of the many layers which feed into this investigation. Firstly the many varied characters which the story leads us to – from Linnea’s ex-husband, to the police who are investigating the crimes in Sweden – and beyond that the twisted and dark thread interwoven throughout – the origins of the murderer, which the reader is constantly drawn back to. Much of the story is told in the present day, following the investigators as they piece together the evidence, yet there are moments, brief passages, when we see into the killers mind. When we are treated to the excitement he gets from the hunt and the sheer joy of the kill. It is a twisted and dangerous mind, totally devoid of emotion or empathy for the victims and the detachment he has from his prey is clinical and chilling.
Beyond that there are also passages which delve back into a very dark period in history. To one of the many interment camps of the Second World War, where the abhorrent treatment of prisoners, the experimentation and the disdain shown to the them by virtue of their beliefs, be they political or religious, is spelt out in clear and graphic, and yet not quite gratuitous terms. It is hard at first to know where these sections are leading, but as our protagonist in these chapters, Erich Hebner, is taken to the eponymous Block 46, the disturbing truth begins to become clear. These passages are hard to read, if only because, despite being fiction, you know that this is exactly the treatment that people were subjected to. Starvation and abuse, where the violence meted against innocent victims transcends any moral or ethical boundaries applied simply to age, race or religion. Put simply, it was an act of pure evil.
The characterisations in this novel are superb. I found myself drawn to both Alexis and Emily, rooting for them to succeed in their search for very different reasons. Alexis is warm and endearing, easily bringing about a calm in those around her and eliciting a kind of trust in others, including the reader. Emily is almost the opposite. Straight talking and clinical at times, she is a no nonsense character that you cannot help but respect. The Detectives surrounding the case, both the older and more measured Bergström and the younger and certainly more cocksure Olofsson also appear wholly authentic, each holding their own certain kind of appeal. And the identity of the killer remains very cleverly hidden until the end, no mean feat to accomplish in a world full of armchair detectives.
The clues are subtle, their reveal gradual. But then this suits the pace of the book. This is not your heart pounding fast paced thriller but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make you nervous. There are moments that will leave you reeling, including one real edge of the seat moment near the end, but the book really doesn’t need to throw in the slap in the face shocks. The unnerving truth of the extent of the murders will be more than enough to keep your mind churning, as will the awful treatment of the prisoners in the concentration camp, and the suspense which the author creates from the very beginning is enough to draw the reader in and keep them hooked until the very end. And the settings, Sweden, London and Nazi Germany, are all so skilfully created, almost characters in their own right, that I felt uncomfortably part of the action at times, almost a voyeur of some very atrocious acts, the like of which were sadly everyday occurrences once and which the passage of time will not, and should not, erase from our minds.
My compliments also on a flawless translation by Maxim Jakubowski.
A dark and at times unnervingly real 5 stars from me.