Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?
Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London and then deep into the past as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.
Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multilayered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.
Block 46 and its successor Keeper were on my bookish radar but only in the sense that I was aware of their existence and it was on my mental “books I need to find out more about when I have a sec” list. And then I watched Orenda Books at Bed Time featuring Johana Gustawsson. For those of you who don’t know what that is (who even are you?!): every Sunday night, Karen Sullivan, founder and heart & soul of Orenda Books, presents an Orenda book, followed by the author reading an excerpt from said book from the comfort of their own home. Have a look:
Afterwards I told myself: I HAVE TO HAVE THIS BOOK! But obviously you can’t start a series with the second book (duh), so I got Block 46 first. I would have preferred it if it had been read to me in its entirety by Johanna herself, but since you can’t have your cake and eat it, I got it on Audible instead. Mind, I didn’t know anything about this book, I didn’t even read the blurb. Moreover, I had no idea that there is a historic Block 46. As such, the book Block 46 took me by complete surprise. I have to say, thanks to Orenda I’ve been expanding my literary horizons this year, and I’ve been learning a lot about WWII. After The Courier, this is the second book with a WWII storyline I’ve read this year. For those of you who don’t know the historic Block 46: it was a building in the German Buchenwald concentration camp where people were treated as lab rats, subjected to all kinds of experiments. While I knew those heinous acts were carried out during the war, I had never heard of Block 46. Let me assure you: the reader does not have to witness a lot of what went on in Block 46, this is not a detailed show-and-tell of all the gruesome crimes committed there.
The Block 46 / WWII storyline is outstanding historical fiction, gruesome, even more so because you know it’s based on real-life events. This storyline is set in the Buchenwald camp and forms the basis of the rest of the story; it’s the origin of the other main storyline, which centres around (a) serial killer(s) on the loose. I must say, that was quite the combo! Bodies have been found in London and Sweden, they seem marked in the same way, that must mean they are connected, doesn’t it? But who has ever heard of a serial killer spreading his hunting ground so wide? Does that mean there are two killers? And if so, are they working together? Oh my lovelies, all those questions that popped up in my mind and remained unanswered for the longest time! This part of the story is equally gruesome, but never in a cheap way. Blood is not spilled just for the heck of it, which is always very important to me.
This is Roy and Castells’ first outing and I loved meeting these two women. Alexis Castells is a crime writer, a smart, independent woman with a nosey, overbearing but adorable mum. Emily Roy is a renowned profiler, sharp as a tack but sometimes lacking in the people skills department. Both are tough, yet vulnerable, and very, very real. Roy and Castells are thrown in together through certain circumstances and team up to join in the frantic search for the culprit(s).
This is a dark and gritty thriller with a historic background that earned Johana Gustawsson the title of Queen of French Noir, deservedly so. I learned some history, but in the most entertaining way, if you’re a regular here you’ll know I always enjoy that. The focus though, is on the thriller side of the story, and also on the psychological aspect of war, and the question whether evil originates from nature or nurture. Highly recommended.
The audiobook is narrated by Mark Meadows (for the Buchenwald storyline) and Patricia Rodriguez, and they both did an awesome job, both in terms of giving the characters their voices, but also in terms of accents and pronunciation of German and Swedish words, names and places. Speaking of which, I’ve been having cravings for kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon buns) ever since listening to Block 46!
I have Keeper, the second book in this series, ready on my e-reader, but I may look into adding the narration since I enjoyed the Block 46 narrators so much and they also narrated Keeper. Later this year the third instalment, Blood Song, will arrive, so I’d better get a move on!
One last shout-out to the translator of Block 46 and Keeper: Maxim Jakubowski, who obviously did an excellent job bringing Johana’s words to life in English.