Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson (tr. by David Warriner) #BookReview #BlogTour

Spain, 1938: The country is wracked by civil war, and as Valencia falls to Franco’s brutal dictatorship, Republican Teresa witnesses the murders of her family. Captured and sent to the notorious Las Ventas women’s prison, Teresa gives birth to a daughter who is forcibly taken from her.

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2016: A wealthy family is found savagely murdered in their luxurious home. Discovering that her parents have been slaughtered, Aliénor Lindbergh, a new recruit to the UK’s Scotland Yard, rushes back to Sweden and finds her hometown rocked by the massacre.

Profiler Emily Roy joins forces with Aliénor and her colleague, true-crime writer Alexis Castells, and they soon find themselves on the trail of a monstrous and prolific killer, in an investigation that takes them from the Swedish fertility clinics of the present day back to the terror of Franco’s rule, and the horrifying events that took place in Spanish orphanages under its rule…
Terrifying, vivid and recounted at breakneck speed, Blood Song is not only a riveting thriller and an examination of corruption in the fertility industry, but a shocking reminder of the atrocities of Spain’s dictatorship, in the latest, stunning instalment in the award-winning Roy & Castells series.

It's an honour to be hosting the blog tour for Blood Song today. Huge thanks to Johana Gustawsson, Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

What I love about Johana Gustawsson's books is that I somewhat know what to expect; a dual timeline story featuring grisly crimes, a perplexing modern day investigation and revelations about dark historical atrocities but despite the ingredients being similar, this immensely talented author always manages to surprise me with her exquisite blend of a perfectly plotted thriller and a harrowing look at horrific events in the past, which touch my soul every single time. It's clear that she explores subjects which resonate personally with her - as a result, her novels are always written with emotive honesty and Blood Song is another deeply affecting, often shocking book which I feel hugely privileged to have read.
Aliénor Lindbergh was a notable addition to the cast of characters in Keeper but here she has a far more distressing role to play after her parents and beloved sister are brutally murdered in their Swedish home. Such a violent massacre is always going to be a difficult case for the police to investigate but Aliénor's personal involvement means this is particularly emotional and I was especially touched by the usually outwardly aloof Emily Roy's response to the tragedy. She is obviously very fond of the younger woman and it's fascinating to see how she is tormented by her friend's suffering. Her intuitive skill in profiling criminals is vital to her job as a profiler but her empathetic handling of Aliénor's grief and her need to be involved with the case demonstrates a different aspect to her perceptiveness. Meanwhile, Alexis Castells is in Falkenberg ahead of her wedding to Stellan Eklund but her planning has to be put on hold as she and Emily follow a lead to Madrid where they team up with journalist, Vicente Guardiola. After working together a few times, Alexis has a better understanding of the rather misanthropic Emily but it's fascinating to see how other people respond to her blunt manner, particularly the smooth and suave, Guardiola.
Spain is also the location of the historical storyline and just the span of years covered - 1937 - 1953 gives an indication of the enormity of what is conveyed here. I urge you to also read the author's notes in which she lays out some of the stark statistics of Franco's dictatorship; a regime which led to one of the highest death tolls in Europe in the twentieth century, second only to Germany. Blood Song is a searingly painful look at the treatment of women and particularly children who suffered appallingly during his long reign of terror, which only ended when he died in 1975. The chapters which feature five little girls who have to endure the most despicable acts in a state orphanage during that time are difficult to read and rightly so for the suffering they endured shouldn't be glossed over or forgotten. The sheer scale of the atrocities of Franco's regime are not as well known here as they should be and it's absolutely vital that such despicable acts are never forgotten. Blood Song may be a fictional story but the terrible abuse featured here happened to scores of innocent victims and I sincerely thank Johana Gustawsson for shining a light on this dark time in European history.
There are also a few chapters set in the 1990s which become ever more chilling as the voice of a killer slowly emerges. Gradually the various timelines are drawn together and the concluding part of the book is totally shocking but also completely heartbreaking as the powerful writing had my pulse racing at some points and reduced to floods of tears at the evil acts perpetrated and the far-reaching, devastating results of such inhumanity. The relationship between mothers and daughters is a recurring and important theme in the novel, with infertility and child loss written about with insight and sensitivity even when there are truly horrific revelations. The strength of the women here, who have to face some truly difficult, life-changing events is yet another highlight in a book which has given me so much to write about and to recommend.
Blood Song is a stunning achievement; Johana Gustawsson has written an unforgettable novel which intertwines the complex, frequently disturbing contemporary investigation with a compelling, important reminder of a terrible time in history and she explores difficult social issues without flinching yet with real heart. Johana Gustawsson's beautiful writing is gifted to those of us who read in English thanks to David Warriner's superb translation which ensures the prose flows naturally throughout. The Roy and Castells series goes from strength to strength and Blood Song is one of those books which will remain with me for the longest time. Highly recommended.

Blood Song is published by Orenda Books, purchasing links can be found here.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series, including Block 46, Keeper and, soon to be published, Blood Song, has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published in nineteen countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production. Johana lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons.
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About the Translator

David Warriner translates from French and nurtures a healthy passion for Franco, Nordic and British crime fiction. Growing up in deepest Yorkshire, he developed incurable Francophilia at an early age. Emerging from Oxford with a modern languages degree, he narrowly escaped the graduate rat race by hopping on a plane to Canada – and never looked back. More than a decade into a high-powered commercial translation career, he listened to his heart and turned his hand again to the delicate art of literary translation. David has lived in France and Quebec, and now calls beautiful British Columbia home.


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