Queen of French Noir, Johana Gustawsson returns with the first in a startling new series – a dark, horrifying, powerful historical thriller with an extraordinary mystery at its heart and three women pushed so far beyond breaking point, they have only one way out…
1899, Belle Époque Paris. Lucienne’s two daughters are believed dead when her mansion burns to the ground, but she is certain that her girls are still alive and embarks on a journey into the depths of the spiritualist community to find them.
1949, Post-War Québec. Teenager Lina’s father has died in the French Resistance, and as she struggles to fit in at school, her mother introduces her to an elderly woman at the asylum where she works, changing Lina’s life in the darkest way imaginable.
2002, Quebec. A former schoolteacher is accused of brutally stabbing her husband – a famous university professor – to death. Detective Maxine Grant, who has recently lost her own husband and is parenting a teenager and a new baby single-handedly, takes on the investigation.
Under enormous personal pressure, Maxine makes a series of macabre discoveries that link directly to historical cases involving black magic and murder, secret societies and spiritism … and women at breaking point, who will stop at nothing to protect the ones they love…
Hi and welcome to my review of The Bleeding!
I’ve been a huge fan of Johana Gustawsson’s writing ever since I listened to Block 46. She’s one of the authors who showed me how fascinating and entertaining historical fiction can be and one who sparked my love for the genre.
I will forever admire the ease with which this author spins her tales, effortlessly combining a historical thread and a present one, with the past bleeding into the present. This time around there are three threads, featuring three women.
No Roy and Castells in the present timeline, but Quebec detective Maxine Grant who is called onto a murder scene. Maxine’s former schoolteacher has apparently murdered her husband quite brutally, but the case is anything but clear-cut, especially when seven severed hands are found on the premises. Maxine herself is struggling, running on fumes as a single parent to a teenager and a baby after the death of her husband.
The first historical thread takes us to Paris in 1899. Lucienne’s daughters are missing, presumed dead, but she’s adamant they have been kidnapped and must be found.
The second historical thread is set in Quebec in 1949. Lina is bullied at school and finds comfort with an old lady in the rest home where her mother works.
As always with this author’s books, I was constantly thinking about The Bleeding when I wasn’t reading. What was up with the severed hands, did this seemingly lovely lady in fact murder her seemingly beloved husband, would Lucienne find her daughters, was Lina headed for trouble? And most of all, how were these storylines connected?
Tautly plotted, The Bleeding makes you wait for the answers and that spurred me on even more. Not that I needed it, I was in no hurry, the road to answers was more than entertaining enough. I made connections and guessed some things along the way before they were revealed but just when I thought I’d won this poker game, The Bleeding showed its cards and royal flushed me. There are parts at the end that I must have read three times, I was that shocked. And yet, it all fits, nothing really comes out of the blue, I just missed some hints and made some wrong assumptions and had the wool pulled well and truly over my eyes.
I went in with very high expectations but I never doubted they would be met. I would even say they were exceeded, this may very well be my favourite Johana Gustawsson to date and that is saying something.
Shout-out to David Warriner for bringing this story to English-speaking readers in such a way that it feels like it was always written in English. I would definitely spruce up my French if that were the only way to read this author’s books, but I’m thrilled that I don’t have to 😂
The Bleeding is an exhilarating ride, it is clever, it is dark and shocking without resulting to gore, it is about madness and compassion and by the end you just want to start it all over and look for the stuff you must have missed. It just blew me away. Highly recommended.
Massive thanks to Orenda Books for the eARC. All opinions are my own.
The Bleeding is out on 15 September in hardcover and digital formats, with the paperback to follow next year. Preorder directly from Orenda Books here.