What’s it about?
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.
Let me start with a moment of truth: I was on the fence at first when I heard this was a contemporary crime novel with historical facts of WW2 weaved into the story. I feel very protective about that time in history and I like reading novels about that era but they are usually survival stories, biographies and such. To incorporate these atrocious events into a fiction novel, I just didn’t know if I’d feel good about it, so I didn’t want to read it at first. Then I started reading all the reviews and saw the ratings for this novel and I had to admit my fears might have been unfounded. I became more than curious and I was very happy when I finally got my hands on a copy of Block 46.
Of course Johana Gustawsson handled everything with great care and yes it was still horrifying to read about and even when I’d read similar stories and I recognized many references, it was undoubtedly very hard-hitting and painful to read at times. I was already wondering if these chapters would continue for a long time. I was drawn to them yet also relieved when the lighter chapters of the investigation followed. It helped to relieve the tension and heaviness and this way I was able to continue reading and I didn’t need to stop to catch a breath, or a moment. On the contrary, I flew through the pages because Erich’s account was so harrowing that I wanted to know what would happen to him as quick as possible. With the title of the novel in mind I had a feeling where he would go but what happens in Block 46 exactly? People who go in never come out but it is very mysterious what happens in there.
When his faith became clear about one third in, the atmosphere of the novel did change somewhat and it wasn’t as oppressive as before. The mystery gained interest and was complete with two totally different threads.. what could Erich’s story have to do with the recent murders and in two countries no less? I was calculating years in my head fairly soon but things just didn’t add up.
The storylines blend perfectly and I admire her audacity to take this on. She could easily have written two books, one historical and one a detective story and done a great job but she really excelled by fusing them together. I was utterly captivated and confused about who was behind all this and how it all fit together. I didn’t see the ending coming – at all! High fives around for an amazing plot twist in this marvellous story!
Block 46 was written by a very talented author that we certainly haven’t heard the last of! The best news is that the follow-up, the yet to be translated Mör, promises an equally exciting investigation with bodies in Sweden and London and a suspect who’s been locked up in a psychiatric facility for the past 10 years. She’s making dual timelines and hard and gritty scenes (think amputated limbs in her second novel) her signature and she’s got a new fan here!
I received a free paperback copy of this novel from my blog friend Emma and this is my honest opinion.