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Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski)
Orenda Books, 30 April 2018
Today I'm joining the blogtour for Keeper, the new book by Johana Gustawsson- almost (but not quite) at the tail end. Do have a look at the poster for the other reviews, there have been some excellent ones so far. I'm grateful to Orenda for a copy of this book to review and to Anne for inviting me onto the tour.
In this second outing for Scotland Yard criminal profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells, Gustawsson again roots a modern day crime in a historical evil. In Block 46, the shadow haunting the present was Nazi medical experiments inflicted on prisoners, in Keeper, it's the Whitechapel Murders of the 1880s (the Jack the Ripper murders).
(Full disclosure, I reviewed Block 46 here and I'm quoted - with lots of others - at the front of Keeper).
I was relieved that while, in this book, Gustawsson looks back to the 1880s, she doesn't try to unpick or "solve" those crimes (though a theory is mentioned). That road has been well trodden. Rather she places a character alongside the killings, allowing that evil, that taint, as it were, to flow forward. Alongside the narration of the modern day crime, we see Freya in Victorian London, and her descendants, showing how abuse and cruelty can flow forward. Never judgemental, Gustawsson nonetheless presents some pretty shocking scenes - like Block 46, this is not a book for the easily upset, unlike that book there is a theme here of specifically misogynistic violence (as you might expect given the Ripper connection.).
If you've read Block 46, you'l know how good Gustawsson is at drawing you into her world, centred on the relationship between Emily and Alexis. They are not an easy pairing - in Keeper they really fall out over a past case which Emily wants reopened, a case which closely concerns Alexis. It;s an example of how complete a world this is, both women come to the series well established, more as if this were book 7 or 8 than merely 2, not only in their different histories but in how their relationship works.
Again, as in Block 46, the story cuts between the UK and Sweden and Gustawsson assembles an impressive cast to investigate what soon turn out to be related murders of women. I was impressed by this cast, in particular by Aliénor Lindbergh, a young Swedish analyst who has Asperger's syndrome. As someone with a relative who has autism I appreciated the portrayal of Aliénor as a rounded individual, not a set of behaviours, and also that while talented - she's doing a demanding job - Gustawsson doesn't portray her as a genius.The rest of the team in Sweden are impressive too, especially Karla, a woman detective having to put up with a degree of sexist ribbing while more or less running an important case.
All in all this is a complex, well plotted and credible crime novel, with a real punch at the end. It develops its central characters, of whom I hope we'll soon see more, and brings (I hope) a new member to the regular team. And as ever Maxim Jakubowski's translation keeps the story flowing along in English while leaving just a slight edge to the language, giving a hint, no more, of "outside looking in" - a bit of distance, of mystery.
Really looking forward to Book 3.