Review: Block 46
Publication: Trafalgar Square Publishing/Orenda Books, October 01, 2017
This book was provided to me as an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) curtesy of Orenda Books (the publisher) and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Overview: Linnea Blix, an artist, was found brutally murdered in a Swedish marina closed for the winter season. Two children with identical mutilations were discovered in London. Alexis Castells, a true-crime writer and Linnea’s friend, teams up with a forensic profiler, Emily Roy, to investigate this international case. The story goes back and forth between the present day and the past. Not only does this case span countries, it seems to span decades.
The good: There were two distinct storylines: one that begins in a German concentration camp, and another one following a modern day murder investigation. The concentration camp felt raw and powerful; Gustawsson handled the horror and cruelty of the concentration camp masterfully. She never verged into torture porn, but managed to convey the true brutality in an unflinching manner. It was in those scenes that I was reminded that sometimes real life is more frightening than fiction.
Gustawsson has an amazing attention to detail. Block 46 was a gripping story all the way through the final twist. I loved the extra layers of complexity, such as moving the story back and forth from London to Sweden. She maintained a firm grasp of plot pacing: it was an excellent choice to keep the chapters short. The story moved seamlessly between the different timelines. It kept me engaged and guessing until the end.
The bad: I had a really hard time getting into the characters. I keep thinking that maybe this was the second novel in a series and that I was missing something. I didn’t understand the motivation behind Alexis. I certainly didn’t believe it.
I love mysteries, but the draw for me is in the people, and Block 46 fell short of that. I wasn’t entirely sure who the main characters were and once I established who there were, I didn’t quite understand their motivations. The pacing of the characters threw me off — a lot of the information I wanted was too little, too late. By the time I was invested in the plot, I didn’t seem to care too much about the characters, which was a pity because I enjoyed the story.
I was excited that there were two female protagonists. Emily seemed consumed by her work, using any means necessary to figure out puzzles. She was aloof and hard. Alexis was confusing to me. She had no business being involved in the case beyond a perfunctory questioning. She was mates with the deceased, but that doesn’t mean she has a role in the investigation. There was no chemistry between the two women. As the novel progressed, I got the feeling that they were supposed be partners, but only because I was told. Alexis and Emily were near strangers; they had met over previous work, but I didn’t get the sense that they had kindled anything beyond a passing professional acquaintance.
Despite my hangup on the characters, I would be willing to read another by Gustawsson; perhaps in the next book, the characters will come to life for me. I think this is a classic case of “Your Mileage May Vary”: there are certainly readers that will find the story and character so gripping, they won’t set it down.
Recommend for: fans of unorthodox police procedurals, and readers who can’t get enough of Scandinavian crime stories.
Grade: C+/3 Stars