Source: Review copy
Publication: 19th September from Orenda Books
Spain, 1938: The country is wracked by civil war, and as Valencia falls to Franco’s brutal dictatorship, Republican Therese witnesses the murders of her family. Captured and sent to the notorious Las Ventas women’s prison, Therese 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 soon finds herself on the trail of a monstrous and prolific killer. Little does she realise that this killer is about to change the life of her colleague, true-crime writer Alexis Castells. Joining forces once again, Roy and Castells’ investigation 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 installment in the award-winning Roy & Castells series.
It is my absolute pleasure to be starting off the blog tour for Johanna Gustawsson’s stunning novel, Blood Song. This is bold, sweeping storytelling confident and assured as it alternates between countries and its dual timeline connects past and present in a riveting, emotive tale that seizes the attention and never loosens its vice-like grip.
If you haven’t read Roy and Castells yet, you are missing something quite special. Gustawsson has an uncanny knack of being able to harness really strong and often quite unpalatable facts and to weave these into a personal story that brings the history to life and makes the reader feel a little of what it must have been like to live in those times. Then she deftly weaves that into a spellbinding contemporary crime story featuring two of the most interesting crime protagonists around utilising sharp, focussed prose which is flawlessly translated here by David Warriner.
I am old enough to remember a little of Franco’s reign and well remember once when as a child on holiday, making a joke about having him in the boot of our car as we were waiting to be checked before we drove on to the ferry to cross the channel to home. My father’s reaction was swift and unhesitating. Suffice to say I didn’t utter another word for at least an hour. Such then was the fear of the Franco regime even in the later years of his regime (I’m thinking it must have been the late 60’s), that the parents of a wee girl worried for their safety just for making a bad joke.
So I knew something about the Franco dictatorship, but I have to confess that the extent of the genocide that took place was unknown to me. Gustawsson has done her research meticulously. She is telling a fictional story, but as she makes clear, it is based on known documented facts and that makes it immensely powerful and quite horrifying.
Put this together with the personal and difficult contemporary storyline of couples trying to have a baby through the use of fertility clinics, and you have another deeply personal and emotive subject.
The usual team of profiler Emily Roy and true crime writer Alexis Castells together with Roy’s autistic mentee, Aliénor from Scotland Yard and the others in the Falkenberg Police whose lives we have come to know and understand better are well fleshed out, real people, with flaws and vulnerabilities.
Gustawsson’s skill is in melding these harrowing stories together into one utterly compelling narrative, leading the reader through her story until we feel the strength of the orphanage relationships in Franco’s Spain and the pain of mothers forcibly separated from their children. Children are also at the heart of those couples who signed up to the Swedish fertility clinics and for whom the sense of betrayal they feel when they realise they have been deceived is all –encompassing.
Gustawsson takes this story very close to home as she sets her thrilling and suspenseful story in the run up to Alexis Castell’s wedding and on the doorstep of Aliénor Lindbergh’s childhood Falkenberg home. Her description of Aliénor’s reaction to this tragedy is heart-breaking and the resulting investigation shows the strength of each of these three women working together to bring the truth home.
I found it impossible not to emotionally engage with these characters, so for me this was a fascinating and engrossing read, but also one that I found intensely harrowing, deeply intimate and which made me cry.
Verdict: Blood Song is superb storytelling of the highest order. Gustawsson brings her own family history to a visceral storyline rooted in fact which produces a stunning and harrowing story that makes an indelible impression on the heart and the mind.
Johana Gustawsson was born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series 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.