BLOCK 46 by Johana Gustawsson
Orenda Books; 5/15/17 (UK) & 10/1/17 (US)
Series: Roy & Castells, Book 1
CBTB Rating: 4/5
The Verdict: a harrowing, ambitious serial killer thriller
BLOCK 46 by Johana Gustawsson is a book that defies categorization. At surface level, this is a hardboiled serial killer thriller—a book that pits a profiler against a cunning, vicious killer. But delve a little deeper and readers will discover a historical fiction component, and a touch of Nordic Noir as well. This book spans decades and countries, and draws readers into a dark web of twisted, brutal crimes and their fallout. BLOCK 46 sets the tone for Gustawsson's Roy and Castells series with a confident, ambitious story that will keep readers coming back for more.
In Falkenberg, Sweden, the mutilated body of talented young jewelry designer Linnea Blix is found in a snow-swept marina. In 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.
I’ll be honest: I had absolutely no idea what to expect when diving into this book. I wasn’t sure whether it would fall under the category of Nordic Noir (a majority of this book takes place in Sweden), whether it’s best considered French Noir (the author is French, as is one of the main characters), or whether it would read more like a traditional serial killer thriller. I was excited to discover that BLOCK 46 might not fall into any of these categories, but it doesn’t need to. Gustawsson blends the best of all three subgenres to great effect. With a dark atmosphere and hints of French sensibilities, plus a vicious killer at its core, BLOCK 46 provides a truly unique and original reading experience.
My personal favorite element of this story was actually the element that I was most skeptical of when I first dove into this book: the historical fiction element. I’m not a historical fiction reader, and I wasn’t quite sure how a historical fiction element would fit into a serial killer thriller. Good news: it fits in brilliantly.
A portion of this book takes place in Buchenwald Concentration Camp during World War II—and I was completely blown away by Gustawsson’s portrayal of this horrific piece of history. The chapters taking place in Buchenwald were above and beyond my favorite part of this story. Their unflinching portrayal of human brutality - and the little ways people resisted within those appalling circumstances - were affecting, gripping, and completely got under my skin. Gustawsson truly shines in these chapters, and the addition of this storyline made BLOCK 46 all the more chilling and engaging.
Outside of the historical fiction chapters, Gustawsson has woven a dark and twisted story of a serial killer and the profiler trying to track him (or her) down. In these chapters, Gustawsson introduces readers to the characters of Emily Roy and Alexis Castells. Roy is a profiler, and Castells is a true-crime writer. Drawn together by the brutal murder of Linnea, Castells’ close friend, these two women find themselves trying to unravel the connection between the events in Buchenwald years prior and the vicious killer on the loose today.
I particularly loved the character of Alexis Castells. She’s a civilian, but her life has been marked by tragedy—and she now tries to process the pain from her past by writing about crimes, and trying to make sense of senseless violence through her books. She’s a very sympathetic character: in BLOCK 46, she devotes everything she has to finding the culprit responsible for killing her childhood friend. Between Emily Roy, Alexis Castells, and its historical fiction element, BLOCK 46 admittedly has a lot of moving pieces to keep track of—but Gustawsson juggles them masterfully.
I do think it’s important for readers to be aware that this book is brutally and graphically violent, and some of this violence is directed towards children. Gustawsson is unflinching in her portrayal of the killer’s crimes, and even I found myself grimacing at some of the descriptions found in BLOCK 46. It’s important that you go into this book with the right expectations: if you’re not comfortable reading about violence against children, do not pick this book up.
BLOCK 46 is a truly unique and chilling blend of Nordic Noir’s dark atmosphere, the sensibility of its French author, and a brutal serial killer plotline. Readers of hardboiled crime fiction will feel right at home in Gustawsson’s world. BLOCK 46 is gritty, bone-chilling, and harrowing—it’s not for the faint of heart, and not to be missed.
About the Author
Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French press and television. She won the Silver Nouvelle Plume for Block 46, and she was the co-author of a bestseller, On se retrouvera, whose television adaptation drew over 7 million viewers in 2015. Maxim Jakubowski (translator) compiles two acclaimed annual series for the Mammoth list, Best New Erotica and Best British Crime. He is a winner of the Anthony and Karel awards, a frequent TV and radio broadcaster, crime columnist for the Guardian newspaper, and Literary Director of London's Crime Scene Festival.
BLOCK 46 Book Details & Blog Tour
Follow along with the BLOCK 46 blog tour for more reviews of the book, and for guest posts by the author!
BLOCK 46: US details
Series: Roy & Castells Series
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Orenda Books (October 1, 2017)
Pre-Order on Amazon
BLOCK 46: UK details
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Orenda (15 May 2017)
Pre-Order on Amazon
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.