Block 46 (Roy and Castells 1)- Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski)

BLURB: 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 multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.

WINNER: Nouvelle Plume D’Argent 2016 

This is the first English translated work by French journalist Johana Gustawsson (she was co-author of a French bestseller, which was turned into a successful TV adaptation.) It’s also – fantastically! – the first in a projected series featuring Emily Roy, a behavioural analyst on secondment to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Mounted Police, and Alexis Castills, a French true crime writer. The latter becomes involved when her friend, Cartier jewellery designer Linnéa Blix, is murdered. She only realises Linnéa’s one in a series of murders when she talks to Emily Roy, who’s already involved in investigating the aforementioned series. However, the two previous victims were young boys aged between 6 and 10, from one parent or dysfunctional homes. So Linnéa doesn’t fit the pattern – why was she targeted? Did she see or does she know something which could identify the murderer? And what do the shapes carved into the arms of the victims, which resemble letters of the alphabet, represent? Also, while the two previous known victims were murdered in London, Linnéa was killed in Sweden – which is where Roy strongly suspects this originated.

Roy is a fascinating character. When examining a crime scene, her attention is on that and nothing else: she becomes obsessive. However, when interviewing witnesses she demonstrates a completely different side to her personality, showing empathy, and using cognitive interview techniques to help witnesses remember things they didn’t know they knew. Both she and Castills have tragic back stories, which are only hinted at in this book, but I suspect we’ll learn more as the series goes on. The way they met – while tracking down another serial killer – also provides possible intriguing future material.

While Roy uses her profiling skills, Castills is happy to use the research skills which are invaluable to any true crime author – and which could, in this case, help solve the link to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, which may or may not hold the key to the entire case.

This is a highly ambitious novel, and Gustawsson pulls it off with aplomb. It’s complex enough to satisfy any crime fiction reader, but what really impressed me were the twists at the end, which I absolutely did not see coming!

So yet another peach of a novel from the Orenda stable – although we’ve come to expect nothing less! Karen Sullivan has a special talent for seeking out the best in foreign novels – she must have wonderful contacts! Expect this novel to be yet another massive and well-deserved hit for one of the consistently best publishing houses in Britain.

Don’t miss it!

I received my copy of this novel courtesy of Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books in exchange for my unbiased opinion.