#BlogTour Book Review - Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jukubowski)

Evil remembers...
Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnéa Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina.
Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnéa's.
Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Ebner 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 Linnéa '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.

Now and again a book comes along that elicits a siren call, from the moment you read the description you know this is exactly what you're looking for. I first heard of Block 46 several months ago and knew immediately that this was a book I needed to read. A 21st century noir thriller with a subplot set in the past could have been written with me in mind!
The book has a chilling opening, an unnamed man, clearly disturbed, is burying a body, with the strong suggestion that this isn't the first nor will it be the last body he will dig a grave for. After this dark beginning there is briefly a change of pace, as we wait for what we already know is going to happen. We are introduced to Linnéa's friend, true-crime writer, Alexis Castells, and learn she has recently interviewed Rosemary West, immediately indicating that this is going to be an uncompromising read. There follows a few chapters where the reader is ahead of Alexis and her friends as we know that Linnéa Blix is dead whereas they are as yet unaware of her fate. We experience their creeping sense of dread until they receive the awful confirmation that her mutilated body has been found in a marina near her holiday home in Sweden. Alexis is drawn into the investigation into her friend's death and joins up with profiler, Emily Roy who is convinced they are looking at the work of a serial killer following a string of similar brutal murders in Falkenberg and London. However, all the other victims are young boys so why would the killer have turned their attention to Linnéa? Alexis, Emily and the Swedish police face a baffling mystery that must be solved in order not only to gain justice for Linnéa and the other victims but also to prevent anybody else facing a gruesome death at the hands of a serial killer.
This main storyline is interspersed throughout the book with a plot set mostly during the Second World War and follows Erich Ebner, a German medical student who is incarcerated at the notorious concentration camp, Buchenwald. These chapters are necessarily difficult to read, Johanna Gustawsson is unrelenting in her description of the cruel and inhumane treatment inflicted on the prisoners by the camp guards. We see the lengths inmates have to go to to attempt to survive and though the horrors of the Holocaust are well known, reading about the suffering of one man, albeit a fictional one, is still a stark and visceral reminder of man's inhumanity to man.
With its short chapters and the changing narrative (there are also brief interludes told from the perspective of the killer), Block 46 is a book that demands your full attention. The threads of the stories are gradually woven together resulting in a thrilling and shocking denouement. This is a mystery of the highest calibre with characters who are never less than full participants, the various timelines and interwoven plots may be the driving force of the novel but Gustawsson never sacrifices characterisation for action. By the end of the novel I felt emotionally wrung out by a book that never pulls back from exposing evil acts, the horror described may be in a work of fiction but as the author notes in her acknowledgement in the back of the book we owe it to the survivors and the millions of men, women and children who perished in the Nazi camps to keep reminding people of the atrocities that occurred there. Block 46 is the best kind of book, it's a gripping psychological thriller with a clever and engaging resolution but it also does what the most intelligent fiction can do, it reaches into the past and tells us that there are some lessons we must never forget. I absolutely loved Block 46, it's a book that kept me reading long into the night, then I couldn't sleep for thinking about it. I know I'll read it again and will be recommending to everybody - that it's a debut makes it even more stunning. Credit too must go to Maxim Jakubowski for his seamless translation, this French Noir novel with its Swedish setting flowed perfectly for this British reader!

 Many thanks to the publishers for my advance copy received in return for my honest review, and for inviting me to take part in the Block 46 blog tour. Details of the other fabulous bloggers hosting the tour are below, be sure to check them out, especially my fellow host today, Emma the Little Bookworm.

Block 46 is published in the UK by Orenda Books. Follow @OrendaBooks and  Johana Gustawsson as @JoGustawsson on Twitter.

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.