In Falkenberg, Sweden, the mutilated body of talented young jewelry designer Linnea Blix is found in a snow-swept marina.
In 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.
As you can see from the blurb, this is a complex novel with several distinctive threads running alongside each other before converging together. There are two story lines in the present day and one set in the past. Each storyline is as important as the other. Each storyline is full of vivid details; graphic details and at times, upsetting or disturbing details.
It's rare to read a book when each narrative is as gripping as the others and each narrative requires the same attention and concentration from the reader. I don't think I've read a book where each storyline has had the power to move me, upset me, anger me and haunt me in equal measure. It's rare to read a book that succeeds so brilliantly when it has been so ambitious in its premise and storytelling. This is a highly impressive read and Gustawsson makes her masterful control and handling of a complex story arc appear effortless.
This novel is gripping, intriguing and engaging. It is full of fascinating characters who the reader is drawn to either through empathy, concern, interest or intrigue. For all it's complexities and cast of compelling characters it is not a difficult read, or at all hard to follow, but at times I did feel I needed to put it aside for a moment.
"the putrid sent of death permeated the sago, mingling with the smell of sweat and emptying bowels. The pestilential odour of man reduced to an animal state. They only had a single bucket and it hadn't been emptied since their departure, thirty six hours earlier."
Gustawsson's writing about the concentration camp in 1944 is perhaps the most chilling, haunting and graphically upsetting evocation of location and setting than anything else I have ever read. The violence and horrific conditions there are reported with brutal truth and in an almost matter of fact voice. But it did not feel gratuitous or as if it was deliberately trying to shock the reader. I have no doubt that her portrayal of life in the camps is incredibly accurate. These brave descriptions are harrowing and unsettled me greatly. I believe that Gustawsson's writing about the camp is incredibly important but it does makes reading some passages uncomfortable and shocking.
As the modern day storyline that acts as the only respite from the scenes and events in 1944 is about murder, it does mean that the reader is in for an assault on their senses and their emotional resilience. I don't think I will forget the impact this book had on me or lose the images it created in my mind. It's fascinating that the most disturbing things in this fictional novel are actually based on real moments in history. There were several lines that I thought were beautifully written yet symbolised something so horrific and desperate that it is a real testament to Gustawsson's gift.
So I do recommend this book. I do recommend that you watch out for this author. I do recommend you read Block 46 and you follow the Blog Tour to read some very eloquent reviews and posts. But I do want to just add a slight warning - this is not a light read.
Block 46 was published on the 15th May 2017 by Orenda Books.
Born in 1978 in Marseille, France, and a graduate of Political Sciences, Johana Gustawsson was a journalist for television and French press. She now lives in London, England.
Interview with Johana Gustawsson (from her website)
Don't forget to follow the rest of the Blog Tour for Block 46 - there are some fantastic posts to watch out for and the most number of 5 star reviews I've seen in ages!!
Check out orendabooks.co.uk (publishers go Block 46) for plenty more amazing titles!
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