Keeper by Johana Gustawsson (tr. Maxim Jakubowski) #BookReview #BlogTour

Whitechapel, 1888: London is bowed under Jack the Ripper's reign of terror. London 2015: actress Julianne Bell is abducted in a case similar to the terrible Tower Hamlets murders of some ten years earlier, and harking back to the Ripper killings of a century before. Falkenberg, Sweden, 2015: a woman's body is found mutilated in a forest, her wounds identical to those of the Tower Hamlets victims. Profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells again find themselves drawn into an intriguing case, with personal links that turn their world upside down.

I'm thrilled to be hosting the blog tour for Keeper by Johana Gustawsson today. Many thanks to Johana, Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my copy of the book.
I've been looking forward to reading Johana Gustawsson's second book ever since I reached the end of her superlative debut, Block 46 last year. The first Emily Roy and Alexis Castells Investigation was one of my top reads of 2017, you can read my review here.
I can say without any hesitation that Keeper will be featuring in my top reads of 2018 come December. It's perhaps too soon to declare an author as a favourite after just one book but now I can categorically state that Johana Gustawsson has become one of those must-read writers for me. Keeper is quite simply a masterclass in tense, complex and shocking thriller writing.
As with Block 46 the contemporary investigation in Keeper is intertwined with events from the past but with this novel the real life inspiration comes from further back in history. Serial killers feature regularly in crime novels but perhaps none have ever quite captured the imagination as much as the notorious Jack the Ripper. In 1888 at least five women were murdered in the Whitechapel area of London. All five were prostitutes and all but one, Elizabeth Stride, were mutilated. Many people will be aware of these facts but perhaps won't know that Elizabeth Stride originally came from Sweden. In Keeper we are introduced to Freda, another Swedish immigrant who moved to Victorian London hoping for a bright future but instead finds only the grime and stench of the back streets of the East End of London. The dark alleys of this desperately poor, crime and disease-ridden area are brought vividly to life with the filth and despair exuding from the pages that follow Freda. At first a hopeful young woman, she is taken under the wing of the streetwise prostitute Liz Stride. The tragic murder of her friend becomes the catalyst for her to seek a different life but eventually leads to her almost inevitable decline, another broken victim of those grim times. Her life story is interspersed through the pages of Keeper as we gradually learn how she is linked to a contemporary investigation into a serial killer who is slaughtering women and leaving them horrifically mutilated. Has the story of Jack the Ripper really come full circle?
In 2015, Alexis Castells and Emily Roy reunited as they try to discover who has abducted actress Julianne Bell. An ominous calling card left at the scene where she went missing followed by news of a horrific killing in Sweden seems to suggest that the Tower Hamlets murderer is active again. How can that be the case though when the killer was caught and has been in Broadmoor Hospital for almost ten years? The investigation has a particular resonance for Alexis and it's fascinating to see how this impacts on her relationship with the formidably driven Emily. That said we also see glimpses of Emily's vulnerability during the course of the book. Both women have tragedies in their pasts and we learn more of them here but there is undoubtedly more to come and I'm intrigued to discover more in future books in the series. They are joined in Keeper by a number of faces from Block 46 as once again the narrative switches between the cases in London and Falkenberg. Detectives Bergström and Olofsson appear once more but this time two more highly skilled and ambitious women become involved with the investigation. Detective Karla Hansen's looks means she has had to battle misogynistic preconceptions throughout her career but it swiftly becomes apparent that she is no airhead. Meanwhile Alienor Lindbergh is the new girl in the office; a student of criminal law and legal psychology, Alienor has Asperger's Syndrome which means she doesn't always find the nuances of social interactions that easy to navigate but it transpires that her analytical skills and knowledge are an invaluable asset to the investigation. It's particularly refreshing to note that there is no hero (or heroine) coming in to save the day here, this is a case that will be solved though teamwork.
I realise I've not written very much about the investigation itself. I really don't want to give too much away about the plot - it deserves to be read rather than read about. This is a complex and utterly absorbing thriller in which the story is allowed to develop steadily as the layers are gradually pulled back to reveal the grisly and shocking truth. Keeper is a beautifully written book, which may seems at odds with the macabre subject matter but Johana Gustawsson uses the darkness to examine just what drives people to perpetuate the most evil of crimes. It may be a disquieting read as it delves into the depths of human behaviour  and there is no doubt that the crimes here are absolutely horrific - I recommend not reading while eating -  but it bears saying that though the victims are subjected to sickening acts it never feels graphic. I was actually reminded of  Silence of the Lambs in that we actually see very little actual violence; the book is rendered psychologically disturbing through our own imaginations as we learn about the horror after it has taken place.
If Block 46 announced Johana Gustawsson's arrival to thriller lovers then Keeper cements her place as one of the most exciting and intelligent authors writing crime fiction today. The intricate linking of the multiple narratives, the fascinating character development and the shocking finale are complemented by the captivating prose. Once again Maxim Jakubowski should be complimented for his translation as without his work many of us would be denied the opportunity to read this first-rate novel. Keeper is a superb accomplishment and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Keeper is published by Orenda Books, it is already available as an ebook and can be purchased or pre-ordered prior to its paperback release on 28th April 2018 here.

Don't forget to check out some of the other stops on the blog tour, particularly my fellow host today, Cheryl over at the fabulous Cheryl M-M's Book Blog.

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. Keeper is the second book book in the Roy & Castells series.

About the Translator

Maxim Jakubowski is a crime, erotic, and science fiction writer and critic. Jakubowski was born in England by Russian-British and Polish parents, but raised in France. Jakubowski has also lived in Italy and has travelled extensively. Jakubowski edited the science fiction anthology Twenty Houses of the Zodiac in 1979 for the 37th World Science Fiction Convention (Seacon ’79) in Brighton. He also contributed a short story to that anthology. He has now published almost 100 books in a variety of areas. He has worked in book publishing for many years, which he left to open the Murder One bookshop[1], the UK’s first specialist crime and mystery bookstore.
He contributes to a variety of newspapers and magazines, and was for eight years the crime columnist for Time Out and, presently, since 2000, the crime reviewer for The Guardian. He is also the literary director of London’s Crime Scene Festival and a consultant for the International Mystery Film Festival, Noir in Fest, held annually in Courmayeur, Italy. He is one the leading editors in the crime and mystery and erotica field, in which he has published many major anthologies.