When I sat down to write this review of Johana Gustawsson‘s third book in her series featuring her dynamic duo, police profiler Emily Roy and true crime writer Alexis Castells, I had a problem. I mean it was a pretty big one really. It was a problem thus: how was I supposed to write a review for a book that is pretty bloody serious? I mean, this story is dark, like, eyes shut in a very dark cave that has had the entrance blocked up on a cloudy moonless night, dark. This is undoubtedly, for me at least, the darkest and most disturbing of the series so far. So how was I supposed to review this book in my usual, flippant, irreverent and, frankly, ridiculous way?
Like a recently felled tree, I was stumped.
I knew of one other blogger who had read the book and would be able to give a serious and thoughtful, respectful and knowledgable review of this moving book. Someone who would give the source material the respect it deserved.
But they were out. A family emergency apparently (I later discovered that they had run out of onions and were making a French Onion soup for some family get together, so that was understandable).
That left me with just one other option. An option that I was very, and I do mean very, reluctant to take. One that I have taken before and it has never turned out very well. It was an option that I have safely kept hidden away behind several layers of safety glass and electrified wire. One that has a direct link to the security services in case someone else accidentally triggers it, and they have been instructed to use extreme force where necessary (and trust me, it would be necessary). One where no one in their right mind, especially after previous encounters, would even consider using it.
But I was desperate, and desperation can be a very persuasive force in making one make stupid, stupid decisions. So I disabled the security measures in place and enabled the Optione Desperaté, as they may, but probably don’t, say in France.
And so, with a heavy sense of foreboding and that sickly feeling in my tummy, I called up myself.
Yes, I called up The Beardy Book Blogger once again to get me out of this desperate situation that I had found myself in.
May your *insert deity of choice here* have mercy on your blog reading souls.
But first, here’s some blurb:
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.
Okay, before we start, a little history about my previous encounters with myself. You can find those at the links below, if you wish to see what I am letting myself in for here.
The Beardy Book Blogger: Right now that that’s out of the way we shall begin. Hello me and welcome to our blog once again.
The Beardy Book Blogger: Why thank you very much. I am very happy to be here once again. I thought you had lost my number, haha….
TBBB: haha indeed. No, no I hadn’t lost it. I, um, misplaced it temporarily, but I found it again, sadly.
TBBB: Phew, I thought that maybe you didn’t want me guest reviewing on your blog anymore.
TBBB: What? Why, why would you ever think that? Haha, of course I wouldn’t ban you from coming within 100 characters of this blog. The very notion.
TBBB: Thank goodness for that. I enjoy our little chats. We have what the kidz would call “pants”. We have great pants, us.
TBBB: What are you whittering on about now? Pants? What pants?
TBBB: *checks* Dammit, sorry, have I forgot to put them on again? I’ll be right back…..
TBBB: Sorry about that. I thought it was a little chilly around that area, haha. Ahem. Where were I?
TBBB: You were going on about ‘Pants’.
TBBB: Oh yes, ‘pants’. Like what the kidz say? As in cheeky talk? Back and forth?
TBBB: Oh, for fu… it’s ‘bants‘, short for banter, you tit. Not ‘pants’ *face palm emoji*
TBBB: Is it? So what are ‘Pants’ then?
TBBB: Well they’re something that you clearly keep forgetting to put on, but aside from that it is a word that you just made up. Also, stop saying ‘kidz’ with a z. It’s ‘kids’, if you must use that term at all.
TBBB: Nah mate, it’s kidzzzzz, innit! I am, after all, down with them.
TBBB: You’ll be down the stairs in a heap in a minute if you don’t shut up and get on with the review.
TBBB: Alright, alright, Mr. Misery Guts *rolls eyes emoji*. Okay, so, which book are we reviewing today?
TBBB: *rubs face with hand* I’ve told you already; Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson. Really, you must pay more attention. You have read it, haven’t you?
TBBB: Have you read it?
TBBB: Of course I’ve read it.
TBBB: Well then, so have I *smug face emoji*
TBBB: You….you really try our patience.
TBBB: I’m not the one talking to myself here.
TBBB: Nothing, nothing at all. Let’s get to the review, shall we?
TBBB: Ooh, yes, let’s do that.
TBBB: Excellent. I can already feel the readers fleeing this blog in their droves…..
TBBB: Their what?
TBBB: Their droves.
TBBB: What are they? Are they like some kind of SUV? Or horse drawn cart?
TBBB: Here we go…no, it mea…
TBBB: Ooh ooh, is it a light aircraft? I’ll use it in a sentence: “Michael was too upset to watch his father suffer in the burning house and took off in his drove, up into the early evening sky, forever leaving his past, and crispy father, behind.” It is isn’t it? It’s one of those things that you sit in and has a great big fan at the back and goes ‘brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…………’
TBBB: What in the name of Johana’s slippers are you going on about now????? That is a microlight. It has nothing to with anything we are talking about here. How does your mind even work?
TBBB: Is it a cow? Ooh, wait, isn’t it something you park your car on? Oh wait, no, that’s a drive. I give up, what is it?
TBBB: (to self) 10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…and breathe in through your nose…hold…1…2…3…and out through your mouth…4…5…6…
TBBB: Hello? You feeling ok? Why are you count….
TBBB: (to self)…in…1…2…3…hold…out…4…5..6…. Right, ok, it’s ok. Everything is ok. Look, ‘in their droves’ means to leave en mass.
TBBB: *face palm emoji* It means in large quantities. All together… er, no Airplane jokes here, please… or….
TBBB: … in large numbers. Get it now? It is not, I repeat not, a means of transport, an animal, a small jar to put paperclips in, or anything else your daft head may have thought up. Got it? Can we please move on before there is no one left to read this?
TBBB: Ahh, I see now. Well, why didn’t you just say “in large quantities” in the first place? Ah, see, this is what I meant by our pants.
TBBB: “BANTS”! Right that’s it, I give up, I’ll do this on my own. Go on, bugger off and bother some other poor sod. *huffs*
TBBB: Awh, I’m sorry, I’ll put my pants away and we can get on with the review now, Ok? Seriously, let us begin before our beardy blog fans fly away in their droves.
TBBB: I will hurt you…again.
TBBB: Jeez, ok ok, I’m kidding. Tell me about this book then (that I have totally read, but please refresh my memory).
TBBB: Right, finally. So, Blood Song is the third book to feature her intrepid duo of police profiler Emily Roy and true crime writer Alexis Castells.
TBBB: Hey, they sound right familiar. Where have we heard them before?
TBBB: *grrrrr* We have met them before in Block 46 and Keeper, books 1 and 2 in the Roy and Castells series.
TBBB: Ohhhhhhh, haha, yes, now I remember. We reviewed them didn’t we?
TBBB: I reviewed them, thank you very much. You were nowhere near them, thank the great Orenda Fairy.
TBBB: Wow, you’ve actually done something useful there. Well done *slow hand clap*
TBBB: Ummm, thank you? Oooh, do you remember when we met the lovely Johana at the launch for Keeper waaaaaaay back in the dim and distant past?
TBBB: How could I ever forget that? In fact we linked to that very event back at the top of this post, but here is a photograph to remind ourselves of that blissful meeting and moment….
TBBB: Awwww, look at her little face. And our beard was behaving itself I see.
TBBB: It was indeed.
TBBB: I also notice that Johana has her knee cocked ready to launch at your groin should you forget yourself and….
TBBB: Errrrr, thank you very much, that’s quite enough of that please and thank you! Who do you think I am?
TBBB: Well, let’s not forget that fellow Orenda Books author Steph Broadribb, she of the brilliant Lori Anderson series, was also at this launch so I imagine that you were like a stag at a rut that night.
TBBB: *splutter* I am shocked and most put out at these unfounded and slanderous accusations.
TBBB: That restraining order against you from Steph is still in place?
TBBB: Er, let’s not forget that it was you who caused that whole unfortunate affair! I was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.
TBBB: That… that was a complete and utter misunderstanding. I was having a trouser malfunction and the elastic in my waistband spontaneously snapped resulting in the descent of said trousers to the floor whereupon I tried to retrieve them and inadvertently, and I emphasise the word inadvertently, mooned Steph as my underwear tore….
TBBB: Please stop! I do not need reminding of this unfortunate affair. The police and Steph were very kind about it, but I think it is best left forgotten now. Hopefully the hypnotherapy that Steph undertook has helped to erase the whole sorry affair and we can all move on. Look, here’s another photo of happier times before the said trouser debacle…
TBBB: Yes, quite…..
TBBB: Exactly. So, moving on, Blood Song follows the same pattern as the previous books, as in they take place over two separate time periods and then neatly dovetail together.
TBBB: Ah, she’s a sorceress with a keyboard is our Johana. Her plotting skills are damn fine.
TBBB: Indeed they are *thumbs up emoji*. Whereas Block 46 spanned the years from WW2 to today, and Keeper the years from the 1880’s to the present day, Blood Song reaches back to the Spanish Civil War and into events in the modern day. It looks at the effects that Franco’s Spain had on those that lived through it and those descended from those that survived.
TBBB: Ooh, I love those TV shows. Is it on iPlayer? Can I catch up?
TBBB: Franco’s Spain. Is it available on catch-up tv? Is it like that one where Billy Connolly toured around Scotland? Or when Stephen Fry drove around the USA in a black cab?
TBBB: Which of the Francos is it? I bet it’s James? He has the pulling power. It wouldn’t be David, but it might be as I imagine he’s less busy what with being less well known and all that. Ooh, wait, there’s another one, um, let me quickly Google it…..Tom, Tom Franco; was it him? Was it all three? Oh em geeee *excited face emoji*
TBBB: Are you tripping right now? What are you on about? I’m talking about General Franco. General Francisco Franco, the dictator and ruler of Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975.
TBBB: Ah! I may have got the wrong end of the stick there. So it’s not a reality TV show where the Franco brothers tour around Spain larking about and generally (no pun intended), get up to much japery and discover weird and strange things about the country?
TBBB: No, no it most certainly is not. General Franco, or El Caudillo as he was known, was a ruthless dictator who tyrannised Spain for over 30 years after he was victorious in the Civil War that ended in 1939. He, along with the backing of the Catholic Church at the time, was responsible for the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent people who opposed him or were suspected of opposing him, his regime or his ideals.
TBBB: Okay, now I feel stupid.
TBBB: And so you should. You see, this book deals with some very dark themes and events, all of which are inspired by real-life events and documented occurrences. For decades the people of Spain cowered under the tyrannical dictatorship of General Franco.
TBBB: So the characters in this book are real?
TBBB: No, they are fictional, but their experiences are all too real for those who lived, suffered, cowered and died during that dark time.
TBBB: Well, I have to say that Johana really does get across the terror felt at that time and of the terrible acts that were meted out to those who opposed Franco.
TBBB: Yes, it really is hard to read at times. So how do our heroes Emily and Alexis fit into all this?
TBBB: Remember Aliénor Lindbergh?
TBBB: I do. She was first introduced in Keeper, right? She is an intern with the Metropolitan Police and training to become a Behavioural Investigative Advisor (BIA) under Emily’s tutelage, yes?
TBBB: I have no idea what a tutelage is, but I’m going to say yes? Oh, is a tutelage like a tortoise, but only it lives in the sea? If so then no, there are no tuteleges in Blood Song, but she is being trained by Emily to become a BIA.
TBBB: You’re thinking of turtles.
TBBB: It means to instruct someone.
TBBB: Aahhhhh, yes, that does make more sense. I thought I’d missed something there.
TBBB: But anyway, it’s good to see her back as she was one of my favourite characters from Keeper. What’s she been up to?
TBBB: Ah, well, it’s all a bit awkward really as her family is massacred at the start of the book.
TBBB: They’re what???
TBBB: Massacred. It means to kill many people…
TBBB: I know what it…
TBBB: … and not to apply make-up to one’s eyes, as I previously thought.
TBBB: … means.
TBBB: That’s mascaraed.
TBBB: That isn’t even a word. Seriously, how does you brain work at times? In fact, don’t answer that! Let’s get back to the book. How are they killed? Poor Aliénor.
TBBB: Well, as you can probably guess I’m not going to go into details of how they were killed here, you and the readers will just have to read the book to find that out. I was reluctant to even tell you that they had been killed, but as it’s in the blurb I figured it was ok.
TBBB: I don’t usually like us to give away spoilers, even if they are in the blurb, but on this occasion I’ll let it pass as it’s integral to the whole plot.
TBBB: Well indeed. As for Aliénor, as you may recall she is autistic and she processes information in a very different way to how we would. She treats the news of their deaths in a pretty matter-of-fact way, but it’s her way. She’s a fascinating character, and she is really put through the wringer in this one.
TBBB: At least Johana isn’t afraid to do that to her characters. A brutal thing to happen.
TBBB: Absolutely. Of course this brings Emily into play as she flies off to Falkenberg in Sweden to assist in the investigation into their deaths.
TBBB: Where is Alexis in all of this? She must be devastated for poor Aliénor.
TBBB: Ah, well she’s blissfully unaware for quite some time as she is busy planning her wedding to Stellan, and her parents are staying over. As you may recall, her mother Mado is quite the fusser and a force to be reckoned with.
TBBB: Ah yes, she is that. So she has her hands full with all the wedding preparations and family shizzle then?
TBBB: She does, but of course she is drawn into the investigation soon enough.
TBBB: Ok, that’s enough about that. We don’t need to regurgitate the entire plot here.
TBBB: Do you want a bag for that? Just in case?
TBBB: A what why now?
TBBB: In case you’re sick. Regurgitation, that means to be sick *proud face emoji*. Only, we just had the carpets cleaned and I don’t want to have to spend time scrubbing your chunder out of the carpet. Again. Remember the unfortunate handstand after drinking that old almond milk you found at the back of the fridge incident, and…
TBBB: I’m not talking about me being sick you buffoon. I meant to regurgitate, recount, the plot, the story, all over again. And that almond milk was perfectly fine, I just stood up too fast, that’s all. I can still smell it all now….
TBBB: Do you want that bag now?
TBBB: Yes please…..
TBBB: Ewww, that’s nasty. Careful, don’t spill it… I’ll fetch the bin. Wait up….
TBBB: Get that thing away from me. Make sure you put it in the bin outside.
TBBB: Don’t worry, I’ll take it out now.
TBBB: *calling* Done it? We don’t have all day here.
TBBB: *calling* Umm, do you have a dustpan and brush handy at all?
TBBB: *calling* Errr, why?
TBBB: *calling* Oh, er, no reason. I just want to, um, tidy up a little out here…
TBBB: *calling* You’ve dropped it on the floor, haven’t you?
TBBB: *calling* I said, you’ve dropp…
TBBB: *calling* Yeaaahhhh. So, dustp…
TBBB: *calling* Under the sink in the kitchen…urgh.
TBBB: Sorry about that. A, er, a squirrel leapt out of the bin and frightened me.
TBBB: Ah, yes, he does that. You need to give the bin a little kick first to startle him out.
TBBB: Well you could’ve mentioned him before I went out there.
TBBB: Errr, where are your trousers this time?
TBBB: In the bin. The startled squirrel had an unfortunate after effect on me as well as making me drop the bag of sick on the floor.
TBBB: So we’re just going to conduct the rest of the review with you sitting there in your boxers, are we? Nice. Bloody marvellous. And please don’t cross your legs like that again!
TBBB: What? Oh, oopsie, sorry about that. Nothing we haven’t seen before, eh?
TBBB: Please, may we continue with the review because I can feel the blood beginning to leave my brain.
TBBB: We’d better get on with it then. Where were we? Oh yes, regurgitating.
TBBB: Let’s not use that word anymore, please! But yes, I think we’ve said enough about the plot now. One of the many things I enjoy about Johana’s books is in discovering how the two time periods come together and events in the past influence and connect to those in the present day.
TBBB: Yeah, that’s what I like too. It’s almost as if she intended it to be that way, no?
TBBB: *sighs* Of course she intended it to be that way, you twit. That’s called plotting. She’s very good at that is our Johana. You yourself said she was a ‘sorceress with a keyboard’.
TBBB: Did I? Ooh, yes I did. Wow, I’d forgotten I’d said that.
TBBB: Okay, don’t get a big head about it. All of the different strands come together nicely, whilst still leaving some questions unanswered, or for later books.
TBBB: But not enough to have to have read the other books first though?
TBBB: Not at all, this book works perfectly well as a standalone, but, as with all series I feel, you do get more out of it from reading the others. And as there’s only two before this you might as well, that’s what I say.
TBBB: Yeah, go for it. The emotional impact is far bigger when you already know these characters.
TBBB: Exactly. You won’t lose out if you haven’t read them though, as the story is strong enough to enjoy by itself.
TBBB: So, to sum up, what are we saying here?
TBBB: In summary: BUY THIS BOOK!
TBBB: Yayyyyy! Hold on, why wait until the summer? Surely you can buy and read this book at ant time of the year?
TBBB: *sigh* No, in summary….
TBBB: Summery, wintery, autumny, who cares? Also, who calls it summery anyway? You don’t say, “ah, I do love the good old summery time”, do you? I mean, you could say, “ooh, there’s a lovely summery feel to the weather today”, I guess. That works for me…
TBBB: Stop. Talking. Now.
TBBB: Then there’s the song “In The Summer Time” by Mungo Jerry. It’s not “In The Summery Time” now is it…
TBBB: Please, enough now you’re beginning to irrit…
TBBB: Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh…
TBBB: What on earth are you doing now? You sound like a demented chimpanzee.
TBBB:… ooh, ooh, I just remembered something.
TBBB: *cautiously* Go on…
TBBB: Well, you know how this book is called Blood Song, right?
TBBB: Blood…. Song.
TBBB: *sigh* Please get to the point…
TBBB: Well, in honour of this book, and of Johana of course, I have…. *makes a fanfare noise* …. written a song …. I know right? Your little face right now…. *glitter gun*.
TBBB: *spitting out glitter* You’ve written a what now? Sorry, I thought you said you had written a song there for an awful, terrifying second.
TBBB: I have, that’s exactly what I said. I’ve written a song about Johana. You know, Johana? Johana Gustawsson, the very Johana Gustawsson we’re talking about today? Here? In this review?
TBBB: I KNOW WHO JOHANA GUSTAWSSON IS! ARRGHHHHHHHHHH!
TBBB: Alright, alright, no need to shout. So, do you wanna hear it? My song?
TBBB: All I really want to hear right now is the sound of your pantless arse leaving my blog and never, ever darkening its keyboard again.
TBBB: Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that, you were mumbling into your hand. I’ll take that as a yes.
TBBB: Err, are you okay? You look very pale and, er, should I get the bag out of the bin? No? Sure? Awwh, look at you, you’re all speechless about hearing my song. Here, let me just turn on this little microphone that I just happen to have with me, that was lucky, eh? One two, one two, hello Wembley… haha …
TBBB: So? Huh? Huh? What do you think?
TBBB: …. I …. I …. I …. I ….
TBBB: I mean, I can’t take credit for the music, obviously, but the lyrics are all mine. I’m rather proud of those. I’m a sorcerer with a microphone, ha ha.
TBBB: …. I …. I …. I …. I ….
TBBB: Err, you’re shaking all over. Now you’re starting to dribble and that little vein on the side of your head is starting to pulse. I don’t like it when it does that. Should it really do that? Maybe I should I call someone? Why are your eyes going red? Should they be going red like that?
TBBB: …. I …. I …. W …. W …. Wi …. Wi …. Will ….
TBBB: You will be okay? Is that what you’re trying to say? You will tell me if Johana likes my song?
TBBB: … Will …. Will … K …. K … Ki … Ki …
TBBB: *backing away* Kiss me? You will kiss me? Is that it? You will kiss me because you know my song is so great? Right?
TBBB: … Ki …. Kill … Kill … Y …. Y ….
TBBB: *from the doorway* Umm, kill, er, kill your worries about Johana not liking my song? I… I’ll just leave now and fetch someone to help you. I really don’t like the way you’re shaking like that. Should blood be coming from your eyes like that? Haha, I’ll, um, I’ll ………………
TBBB: …. nnnnnghhhh ….. gahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Why do I do this to myself? Every. Single. Time….. *puff* *pant* *puff*
That’s it, he’s never ever ever ever EVER coming near this blog again! I’m truly sorry Beardy Blog Fans. I’m sorry you had to bear witness to this whole debacle. I really hope it hasn’t put you off checking out Johana’s book? Blood Song is another excellent addition to the Roy and Castells series, furthering the stories of Emily, Alexis and Aliénor, et al from what we already know from Block 46 and Keeper, but remaining accessible to those for whom this may be their first foray into Johana’s writing. It’s an emotional, at times harrowing story of life under the tyranny of Franco’s regime and of the repercussions of its actions on those who survived in the years that followed. This is not meant to be a history book though, but the characters and the situations they find themselves in during the regime, although fictionalised, are all based on events that happened as Johana discusses in the book’s forward. At its heart Blood Song is a riveting crime thriller with the apparently senseless and motiveless murders of Aliénor’s family drawing Emily Roy and Alexis Castells back together to help bring justice for her. It also written with a strong and very personal connection to Johana’s own experiences with IVF and fertility treatments of which I was unaware before I read the book, but knowing this now, it lends an extra poignancy to those elements of the story (You can read about Johana’s real life story here. It was freely available, but you will need to register to read the full article now).
I cannot recommend Johana’s books highly enough. A very special mention needs to be made to David Warriner (aka @givemeawave on Twitter), translator extraordinaire, without whom these books would be inaccessible to those of us who do not speak French. Cheers David (I’ve met him and he’s a thoroughly top bloke) 😁
You can purchase Blood Song as an eBook from Amazon UK at the little link below:
As we are currently (at time of writing) in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, here is a little post from Karen Sullivan, Mama Orenda herself, at Orenda Books, on ways that you can help to support independent book sellers during these tough times:
I need a lie down and a very stiff drink, and then I’m going to burn that song.
Until next time.