REVIEW: Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson (Roy & Castells #1)

Series: Roy & Castells

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: historical ties, serial killer, behavioural profilers, European mystery, gruesome murders

Quick Review: Dark, complex, and chilling, the deep background and history woven into this novel makes it a surprising and excellent read.

***

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 truecrime 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.

BLOCK 46 is the first in what promises to be an interesting series by Johana Gustawsson. Ranging across Europe, centered on London and with a Canadian connection in the form of profiler Emily Roy (the profiler), it’s a truly wide-ranging novel that ties together many of the excellent elements of Nordic noir and European crime fiction into a fast-moving and gripping package.

A note about Emily and Alexis (Roy & Castells): they are a very interesting pair and refreshingly different from the standard lonely male detective. Emily Roy is a Canadian behavioural profiler (on loan to Scotland Yard from the RCMP), brilliant but fallible and despite her abrupt exterior, occasionally quite vulnerable. Alexis Castells on the other hand is emotional, feminine and not a detective – she’s a French writer with an interest in serial killers, and while she cannot really participate as an investigator, her research skills and keen intuition are helpful. It’s a unique pairing that gives a different feel to the story than you typically find in crime novels involving serial killers.

The other thing that really makes this refreshing is the historical context and time jumps that Gustawsson uses to both keep the pace moving quickly and to bit by bit reveal the history behind the killer. It’s brutal and dark, but the technique is used to fantastic effect here. Also, you tend not to see a lot of material written about the horrors of concentration camps during the Second World War and Gustawsson manages to handle it sensitively. It provides a deeper background without being overly sensationalized.

Generally the plot feels like a fairly standard serial killer hunt, but I was actually surprised by the ending. The whole thing feels very polished and well-constructed, with a pace that’s just right to keep you turning pages.

I’m really looking forward to reading more in this series. Definitely pick up BLOCK 46 for a new perspective in thrilling novels about serial killers.

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